As we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we wanted to acknowledge some under-appreciated activists who also sacrificed their lives for the causes they so vehemently believed in. From gay rights to civil rights to women's equality, these seven inspirational leaders are gone but their fight lives on.
"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." -Harvey Milk
The first openly gay elected official in California, Harvey Milk was a fierce advocate for equality and justice. He passed groundbreaking legislation in San Francisco, making it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Milk served only 11 months in office before being shot to death by Dan White, a fellow city supervisor, according to Notable Biography.
Upon hearing the news, an impromptu candle-light vigil was held for Milk, attended by more than 25,000 people, The New York Times had reported.
"Despite threats of death, I will not acquiesce to tyranny, but rather lead the fight against it." -Benazir Bhutto
While she lived much of her life in exile from the country she loved, she always returned -- considering it her obligation to help her own people.
As the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Bhutto focused on building schools, fighting poverty, increasing access to healthcare and stamping out terrorism,
as chronicled by Biography.
She faced incessant opposition from Islamic fundamentalists, but she refused to let this cripple her efforts.
According to Pakistan People's Party, while running for office in 2007, she was the victim of two assassination attempts. She survived the first but succumbed to the second.
"Viola Liuzzo gave her life for what she believed in, and what she believed in is the cause of humanity everywhere." -Former Governor George Romney
A mother to five children and a civil rights activist, Liuzzo spearheaded protests and worked closely with the NAACP in the fight for equality. She was driving an African-American protester to an event in Selma, Ala., when a car filled with KKK members pulled up along side hers and fired two shots into her head, according to CNN.
She died instantly.
DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images
"It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die." -Steve Biko
Steve Biko was a prominent anti-apartheid activist in South Africa. An outspoken opponent of the oppression of all non-whites, Biko founded a number of grass roots organizations and became a prominent figure in the anti-apartheid movement. According to South African historians, his powerful speeches and writings struck such fear in the apartheid government that they banned him from public rallies, speaking with the media and forbade media outlets from quoting or referencing him in their work.
Despite these restrictions, Biko still managed to do important work--including helping to organize protests. His continued activism lead to his arrest, interrogation and torture. While the police claimed that he died from a hunger strike, the Steve Biko Foundation reports that an autopsy revealed the cause of death was a brutal beating.
In a tribute to Biko, Nelson Mandela said, "History from time to time brings to the fore the kind of leaders who seize the moment, who cohere the wishes and aspirations of the oppressed. Such was Steve Biko, a fitting product of his time; a proud representative of the re-awakening of a people."