Human Rights Advocates: Effects & Examples

Instructor: Angelica Goldman

Angelica has taught college and high school history and social sciences, has a master's degree in history, and is a licensed FL teacher.

This lesson will discuss human right advocates throughout history. We will explore the causes exemplary human rights figures have fought for and the impact that these advocates have had on human history.

Human Rights Advocates Throughout History

What would you do in the face of oppression? Would you look the other way? Would you stand up and fight? Would you just give up?

Human Rights, or the rights we believe that every person is entitled to simply because they are a human being, have long been a point of contention in every society. Such rights have come to be understood to include freedom, freedom from oppression and violence, basic education, and a voice in one's governance, among others.

The modern idea of human rights as inalienable and indivisible didn't begin until the 16th century, and culminated in the ideas of the American Declaration of Independence. Since that time, many influential figures have fought against the initial values of the societies that they have lived in, in the hopes of earning different classes of people more equal human rights.

Engaging in such advocacy frequently put the lives of such figures in substantial danger, but many notable human rights advocates have continued in spite of that to push the cause of helping others. We will discuss just a few of these amazing individuals who had the courage to take a stand for their fellow man (and woman).

Frederick Douglass and the Battle Against Slavery

Portrait of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was an African-American born into slavery in the American Southern Plantation System, notable for its totality and brutality. Slaveholders in the American South owned slaves, who under the law, were equivalent to a cow or a piece of farming equipment.

As a young man, Douglass escaped slavery, and settled in New England, where slavery was illegal. Instead of retiring into a comfortable life as a preacher, Douglass made a startling choice: to advocate for the abolition, or end of slavery, in America.

This decision led him to travel frequently and to write extensively in support of the cause of abolition. Many of Douglass' written works became very famous, including his autobiography. It also made his life very dangerous and difficult. He was frequently accosted or attacked by mobs who wanted slavery to remain legal in the United States.

When the American Civil War struck, Douglass urged emancipation, or complete freedom, for the enslaved, and championed the cause of the education of former slaves. As a result of his advocacy, scores of slaves found freedom and received help in starting new lives after the end of the Civil War.

Elie Wiesel and the Fight to End Genocide

President Bush and the Dalai Lama welcome Elie Wiesel to the U.S. Capitol
President Bush and the Dalai Lama welcome Elie Wiesel to the U.S. Capitol

Elie Wiesel was born to a Jewish family in the mountains of Romania on the eve of the Second World War. As a teenager living in Hungary, Germany invaded, and Elie Wiesel was rounded up with millions of other Jews and deported to the most dreaded concentration camp, Auschwitz. Unlike many others, Wiesel survived, but his entire family perished.

After the war, Wiesel eventually moved to the United States, became a journalist, author, and human rights advocate. His novel, Night, about his experience during the Holocaust, has been a bestseller. Wiesel devoted the profits from his books to working and speaking out against oppression around the globe.

Elie Wiesel's advocacy became his life's work. He tirelessly fought and spoke out throughout his life, even after he had already endured so much, and even though it put him in continued danger. Wiesel eventually received the Noble Peace Prize for his work against repression, violence, racism, and genocide. Even after his death, his advocacy continues in his works and his foundation, which continues to ensure that the voices of the oppressed can be heard.

Margaret Fuller and the Crusade for Women's Rights

daguerreotype of Margaret Fuller

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