Inspiring Stories: everyday men and women who changed history
Rosa Parks: Wouldn’t Give Up Her Seat
Tired from a full day’s work, Rosa Parks boarded a Montgomery bus on December 1, 1955. When she refused to obey the driver’s order to give up her seat in the “colored” section for a white person, she was arrested for civil disobedience. Parks’ act of defiance, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed, are recognized as pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement.
Mohammed Bouazizi: Sparked a Revolution
Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi never had any dreams bigger than saving enough money to rent or buy a pick-up truck. But when he set himself on fire out of desperation in December 2010, he became a symbol of the suffering of all Tunisians. Bouazizi’s death inspired the nationwide unrest that resulted in the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The Tunisian uprising, in turn, led to the Arab Spring movement that ultimately toppled regimes in Egypt and Libya.
Candy Lightner: Stood Up Against Drunk Driving
After her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a repeat DWI offender, Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in her home on March 7, 1980. Before MADD, there were little to no legal consequences for driving while intoxicated; her organization transformed American attitudes about drunk driving and successfully fought for stricter laws across the country.
Tiananmen Tank Man: Faced Down the Chinese Army
We’ve all seen the powerful image of a man standing directly in front of a tank near Tiananmen Square in China, but he was never identified. The photo was taken on June 6, 1989, the day after China’s bloody crackdown on student protesters. Despite his anonymity, Tank Man has become an internationally recognized symbol of resistance to government oppression.
Frank Willis: Did His Job…and Brought Down a President
On June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Willis was making his midnight rounds at the Watergate office building in Washington, D.C., when he noticed tape over the lock of a basement door. Thinking another worker had left it there accidentally, he removed it. Willis later found tape again in the same place. He called the police, and the rest is history. Two years later, President Nixon resigned in disgrace over his involvement in the coverup of the Watergate break-in.
Ryan White: Raised Awareness of AIDS
Ryan White, a teen from Indiana, was a hemophiliac who contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion. He passed away at 18, with family and Elton John by his bedside. Through his struggle with the disease, White became the new face of the epidemic, debunking the myth that AIDS afflicted only drug users and the sexually promiscuous. His fight for fair and equal treatment from his public school system helped expose the discrimination faced by AIDS patients.
Lilly Ledbetter: Fought for Equal Pay
Upon retiring from Goodyear after nearly 20 years, Lilly Ledbetter sued the company in 1998 for paying her less over the years than her male coworkers. The lawsuit climbed the judicial ladder until it reached the Supreme Court. Although they did not rule in her favor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote a stirring dissent. Congress subsequently passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, changing federal law to better protect women in the workplace.
The Man Who Refused To Do The Nazi Salute
This awesome, not-so-subtle act of defiance should have been mentioned in our previous list of people who stuck it to Hitler. A photo taken in 1936 commemorating the launch of a new training ship in Hamburg showed how one man named August Landmesser refused to do the Nazi salute with his co-workers. Instead, he simply crossed his arms and looked smugly at the new ship.
Landmesser’s defiance stemmed from forbidden love. The Nazi Party expelled him from their ranks after they discovered that he had continued to live with his Jewish wife, a woman named Erma Eckler. Eventually, the Nazis forcibly separated the husband and wife for good. They had Eckler euthanized in 1942 and gave Landmesser a virtual death sentence by conscripting him to a penal battalion in 1944. Fortunately, the couple’s two daughters survived the war and have since made it their mission to spread the story of the brave man who dared to defy the Nazis.
The Kozakiewicz Gesture
The Olympics are usually full of moments that will forever be seared into mankind’s collective memory; this is one such moment. Set during the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, this incident involved Polish Olympian pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz telling the mostly Soviet crowd off with his country’s version of the middle finger after he won the gold medal. Prior to that, the crowd had been rabidly jeering him in an effort to throw him off. His act of defiance later made him a celebrity in his native country—and across the world.
Naturally, this little incident didn’t sit well with the Soviets. Their envoy to Poland demanded that Olympic officials strip the Olympian of his gold medal. His request went unfulfilled when Polish officials came to Kozakiewicz’s defense and explained that the gesture had been the result of an “involuntary muscle spasm.”
The Woman Who Infuriated The Ayatollah
Few people in this world can claim to have both infuriated and amused the dreaded Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In fact, Oriana Fallaci may be the only one who can. In a no-holds-barred interview with the Ayatollah in October 1979, the Italian journalist and former World War II resistance fighter repeatedly irritated the cleric with her probing questions on his political and religious views. At one point, the topic turned to Muslim women’s clothing. After the Ayatollah chided her and said it was the proper dress for women, Fallaci ripped her chador off in front of the cleric. That incident shocked the Ayatollah enough to make him walk out of the interview.
Fallaci had to wait for a day for the cleric to return; during that time, his son Ahmed instructed her not to bring up the topic again—an order she ignored. When the Ayatollah did return, she immediately brought up the issue again. In what could only be described as a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the cleric subsequently smiled and laughed instead of blowing up. After the interview was done, Ahmed complimented Fallaci for being the only one in the world to make his father laugh.
The Woman Who Brushed Off A Bayonet
While we are more familiar with the famous incident that involved civil rights activist Rosa Parks refusing to budge from her seat in a segregated bus, it would be a shame if we did not mention Gloria Richardson’s similarly amazing act of defiance. As the leader of the civil rights movement in Cambridge, Maryland in the 1960s, Richardson worked tirelessly to end segregation and unequal government treatment of blacks. During this time, they also had to actively defend themselves from attacks by white supremacists and pro-segregationists.
In 1963, racial tensions culminated in a major riot, forcing the governor to declare martial law and send in the National Guard. This ugly episode would turn out to be Richardson’s finest moment: Instead of backing down from a Guardsman pointing a bayonet at her face, the single, middle-aged mother of two angrily brushed it aside and shouted invectives at the man. Although Richardson would later continue to join other protests, she never forgot that fateful incident in her later years, even remarking that she was crazy to have done that back then.
Salt March led by Gandhi, India, 1930
When India was a British colony, the British Raj imposed a hefty tax on the import of salt. This affected all Indians regardless of wealth or class, and so had the power to galvanise millions.
The Salt March attracted worldwide attention and sparked a desire to fight for independence within the country. During the speeches he gave over 24 days of the march, Gandhi encouraged followers to boycott salt by making their own. Gandhi was later arrested, but the protest against salt continued during his incarceration. He continued his fight for Indian independence, which came in 1947.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos Olympic protest, Mexico, 1968
“If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight.” – Tommie Smith
This photo has been deemed one of the most powerful images in Olympic history. After winning gold and bronze medals in the Men’s 200m Finals, Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the national anthem as a political gesture for human rights. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman wore a human rights badge in support.
The Self-Immolation of Thích Quảng Đức, Vietnam, 1963
“As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.” – David Halberstam, Eyewitness
Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself on fire in 1963 to highlight the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm in South Vietnam. He used his last words to call on others to organise in solidarity. Images of his protest were circulated around the world and put pressure on the international community to reconsider support for Diệm. Images of Thích Quảng Đức’s protest have been deemed some of the most powerful in history.
Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, Burma, 1989 – 2010
“Last month I was released from almost six years of house arrest. The regaining of my freedom has in turn imposed a duty on me to work for the freedom of other women and men in my country who have suffered far more – and who continue to suffer far more- than I have.” – Aung San Suu Kyi after brief release in 1995
Aung San Suu Kyi spent a total of almost 15 years under house arrest, following her electoral win in the 1990 Burmese general elections, as the opposition. This meant being separated from her husband, Dr. Michael Aris, who died of cancer during her incarceration, and her two children. She was released from house arrest on November 13, 2010, and has stated since that she plans to run for the presidency of Myanmar’s (Burma) 2015 elections.
Source: Reader’s digest, listverse.com, one
Author: @kristencarney, Marc V, susheila juggapah