Human Rights Day: 5 less celebrated crusaders for human rights

Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it popularly known as Chief Joseph

“Stones crumble and decay, faiths grow old and they are forgotten but new beliefs are born. The faith of the villages is dust now, but it will grow again, like the trees. May serenity circle on silent wings and catch the whisper of the winds.”

Chief Joseph was the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce Native Americans in northeastern Oregon.

He lived during a time when Native Americans were driven off their ancestral lands by white settlers.

Chief Joseph worked hard to keep his tribe from retaliating against violence inflicted upon them. He negotiated a deal with the federal government that would allow his tribe to remain on their land. As was often the case, the government reversed the agreement three years later and threatened to attack if the tribe did not relocate to a reservation.

Throughout his life, he relentlessly fought against the injustices and unconstitutional policies of the United States towards his people. He traveled around the country championing the cause of Native Americans, peacefully fighting for equality and justice.

In 1885, he and his people were moved to a reservation in Washington where, according to the reservation doctor, he died of a broken heart.

Albertina Sisulu

political activist and nurse,  she was often referred to as the Mother of the Nation.

With her husband and fellow activist Walter Sisulu, she attended the first conference of the ANC Youth League where she was the only women present.

In 1948 she joined the ANC Women’s League and in the 1950s she began to assume a leadership role in the ANC and in the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW). She was one of the organisers of the historic anti-pass Women’s March in 1956 and opposed inferior Bantu education.

Both Albertina and Walter were jailed several times for their political activities and she was constantly harassed by the Security Police.

Beyers Naude

A Dutch Reformed dominee, Beyers Naudé became what Nelson Mandela referred to as a “living spring of hope for racial reconciliation”.

His father, Jozua Naudé, also a dominee, was a founding member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, a secret society aimed at promoting Afrikaner nationalism.

The Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960 brought about a huge change of heart for Naudé.

Serving as a dominee, in the elite Aasvoëlkop congregation in Northcliff, he experienced intense inner conflict between the church’s support of apartheid and his own Christian principles. This led to him resigning from the Broederbond in 1963 after 22 years of membership. But his real turning point came on a Sunday morning in September of that year. Already considered a traitor for quitting the Broederbond, he braved complete rejection by the Afrikaner community by condemning apartheid from the pulpit.

After completing his last sermon in which he placed “the authority of God before the authority of man”, he removed his robes and left his church.

Naudé and his family were completely ostracised by their fellow Afrikaners, but embraced by the black community. They joined a Dutch Reformed congregation in Alexandra.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks was arrested for civil disobedience on December 1, 1955.

In 1955 American civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. This resulted in the Montgomery Bus Boycott which became an important symbol of the Civil Rights Movement. The city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift the law requiring racial segregation on public buses.

The 14th Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. He was born on 6 July 1935, to a farming family, in a small hamlet located in Taktser, Amdo, northeastern Tibet. At the very young age of two, the child who was named Lhamo Dhondup at that time, was recognized as the reincarnation of the previous 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.


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