From a grief-stricken mother striving to make a difference in others’ lives, to a passionate African American rights activist, history is full of influential and inspirational people who exceeded expectations and limitations. Here are some of history’s most inspiring movers and shakers, in stunning black and white photography.
At the top of the list, one of the most inspirational people, or at the very least, inspirational mothers, is Candance (Candy) Lightner. Lightner was the founder of MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Unfortunately, the movement’s inspiration was the tragic death of her daughter. Cari was killed in a hit and run by a 46-year-old drunk driver. Cari was only 13 years old when the intoxicated driver struck her, leaving her on the side of the road. That day, May 3, 1980, would change Lightner’s life forever, as she became the pioneer of one of the most influential organizations in U.S. history.
Tennis star Stan Smith, a cultural icon, didn’t have an easy start. According to supervisors, Smith was “too clumsy” to even be a ball boy. But Smith went on to win eight Davis Cups, as well as big wins at Wimbledon and the U. S. Open. He was a coach for the United States Tennis Association and the founder of his own tennis school.
Marie Stopes was a British scientist, not as well-known as other inspirational people. But Stopes broke barriers for her work in sex education. Multiple publishers rejected her revolutionary book, Married Love, in fear of the controversial views. Despite society’s views of sexuality and birth control, Stopes was a passionate advocate of women’s rights. She went on to develop Britain’s first birth control clinic.
Noted today for his stylistic diversity, Igor Stravinsky didn’t receive much appreciation in his time. During the Russian composer’s debut of “Rite of Spring,” the evening took a turn for the worse. It started with the audience’s laughter, ending in a brawl. However, his music, specifically “Rite of Spring,” continues to inspire musicians today.
J. K. Rowling
JK Rowling, one of the most inspirational writers of all time,had a rough start. Rowling was living on state benefits when she thought of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It took her years to write and develop, during a period of tragic family loss. Rowling is now known as one of the most successful women in history.
Tom Landry, the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys, didn’t make a great first impression. Landry held a record for having one of the worst first seasons in football history. Landry worked with the Cowboys to secure five NFC Championships and two Super Bowl. He’s known today as being one of the best coaches in NFL history.
Helena Rubinstein was the founder of Helena Rubinstein Incorporated cosmetics. Thisventure led to her success as one of the world’s richest women. However, when she began to work with cosmetics, Rubinstein was poor and spoke no English. She was working as a waitress and governess before developing her first product. Crème Valaze was a massive success.
Screenwriter Oliver Stone wrote the critically acclaimed films Midnight Express and Scarface. But he wasn’t always successful in his creative endeavors. Stone was actually a Yale dropout. Before hitting it big with Hand and Seizure, he was a soldier, a salesman and a taxi driver.
Shirley Chisholm is one of the most accomplished inspirational people. The first African American woman in Congress, Chisholm was also the first first female and African American to run for the Democratic presidential nomination. She spent a significant part of her childhood living with her grandmother in Barbados, as her parents had difficulty raising their four daughters. After attending Columbia University, she got her political start in 1965. Chisholm credits her success to receiving a good, strict education.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution definitely qualifies him as one of the world’s most inspirational people. His famous book, On the Origin of Species, made scientific history. Darwin was wildly successful despite the fact that he fell ill with a mysterious ailment. Doctors could not diagnose it, so he continued traveling and studying while sick.
Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, is known for being the first woman to head a Mmuslim majority. Her work against Islamic extremism and for women in the Muslim world still influences the global community. As a result, her legacy goes on, despite her tragic assassination in December 2007.
Mary Quant, a British fashion designer, was a revolutionary in fashion. As creator of the first mini-skirt, Quant was crucial in showing women to love their bodies. Quant’s work led to the liberation of fashion, encouraging women to dress for themselves. The Queen appointed her as a Dame in 2015.
Angela Davis is possibly one of the boldest inspirational people on the list. While working at UCLA as an assistant professor, the African American activist and radical feminist was let go. Although suspected of having an association with the communist party, she was reinstated, only to be fired again for inflammatory language against police. She went on to pen a number of books and founded the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, as well as co-founding Critical Resistance.
Albert Einstein is one of the most well-known and widely quoted inspirational people. He’s known for his development of the theory of relativity. However, many don’t know that Einstein was socially awkward. The German-born theoretical physicist’s may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. When he was a child, his parents thought he had a learning disability. Professors weren’t confident that he’d ever graduate.
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King made sports history after beating male tennis star Bobby Riggs. Competing in a Battle of the Sexes game, the former tennis player defeated the 55-year-old Riggs. However, during her early years, King suffered a number of losses due to a lack of confidence. She went on to win countless games, tournaments and championships. This includes 20 wins at Wimbledon. She was also the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association.
Sigmund Freud was brilliant, but unfortunately lived in Nazi Germany during WWII. Thankfully, he fled. The father of psychoanalysis went on to do incredible work with psychiatry. Unfortunately, he developed jaw cancer. His career was cut short after dying via assisted suicide in the fall of 1939.
Mahatma Gandhi is known for his nonviolent forms of protest and leadership. These traits make him one of the most inspirational people of all time. The free leader of India was imprisoned for years, routinely fasting in a form of social protest. He was unfortunately assassinated by a Hindu nationalist.
Mae Jemison had a strong, consistent interest in science as child. Despite the encouragement to pursue more traditional feminine interests and skills, she soldiered on. After attending Stanford University at just sixteen years old, she joined the space program. She went on to become the first African-American woman to visit space.
Elvis Presley, one of the most inspirational musicians of all time, didn’t have it easy at the top. Presley faced struggles with spells of depression, waves of obesity, and an addiction to prescription drugs. However, his music inspired millions. His hip-shaking, poppy rock-and-roll style changed the genre forever.
George Sand was a socialist and French novelist in the 19th century. She was the first woman to publicly don male clothing. She’s one of the least-known inspirational people, but made a difference simply by being herself. She wasn’t ashamed of her contemporary behavior, despite the times. She was widely criticized and restricted because of her attire, but was a trailblazer for women.
Roald Dahl is the most imaginative of the inspirational people on the list. However, the beloved children’s author was no stranger to tragedy. Once a pilot in the Royal Air Force, the eventual author left the military after surviving a plane crash in Libya. He went on to pen novels such as The BFG, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, selling 200 million books, and receiving prestigious awards such as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.
Mother Teresa, or Saint Teresa of Calcutta, was a well known and respected nun. Her missionary work brought her into the poorest areas of the world, often leaving her with no money or resources. In her later years, she was often ill after suffering a significant heart attack. Her dedication to help impoverished world citizens led to her canonization as a saint on September 4, 2016.
Due to a birth defect, Jessica Cox was born without arms. Despite this obstacle, she went on to become the first armless aviator. She participated in the Tour de Tucson. She also has a black belt in Taekwondo, and learned how to use her legs in place of arm-focused hits and punches. Cox is also a motivational speaker, author, and humanitarian.
Novelist Zane Grey spent most of his teen years working in his father’s failing dental practice. This was without a license to practice medicine. After graduating University of Pennsylvania, Grey worked in dentistry. He published his first novel in 1910. Despite bad reviews and the Great Depression, he became a best-seller in the western genre.
As inspirational people go, Elizabeth Murray has come a long way. Murray was homeless before working her way to Harvard University. Liz’s parents were both drug addicts who eventually contracted HIV. Murray pushed beyond this past to attend Humanities Preparatory Academy in Chelsea, Manhattan. She graduated early, attending Harvard and graduating in 2009.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Kyi, known as “The Lady,” is a Nobel Peace Prize winner who fought to instate democracy in Myanmar. Despite being imprisoned, detained and under house arrest for nearly fifteen years, she led the National League for Democracy. Kyi even missed the passing of her ill husband, who was in the UK, for fear she wouldn’t be allowed back into the country to continue her fight.
Craig Kielburger, the co-founder of the Free the Children, is a Canadian children’s rights activist known for his extensive work in Asia. At twelve years old, Kielburger was the founder of “Kids Can Free the Children.” His inspiration was an article about Iqbal Masih, a child worker who was murdered in 1995. Craig traveled to Asia, raising awareness of the child labor conditions. His group worked to release the eventual recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Kailash Satyarthi.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was the founder of the National Council of Negro Women. Perhaps one of the most hard-working of all the inspirational people, Bethune brought education to poor African American students. Bethune used secondhand items to make furniture for the school, even crafting pencils from burned wood and pens from elderberry juice. Bethune’s friendship with the Roosevelts and her dedication brought African American issues to the forefront of the country.
Sean Swarner didn’t allow his diagnosis of not one, but two deadly cancers hold him back. Instead, despite being told he had two weeks to live, Swarner went on to climb Mount Everest. He eventually authored a book and established a cancer research foundation.
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was an African-American novelist and short story writer. Hurston overcame poverty to pen Their Eyes Were Watching God. In order to make ends meet, she worked as a maid, eventually attending Columbia University. She was their only African-American student.
In 1984, Ryan White was in middle school. He contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. After White’s expulsion from school and diagnosis for six months to live, he beat the odds. White was an advocate for AIDS research, living five more years. His story shed light on the truth beyond the stereotypes of the disease.
Malala Yousafzai is an activist for female educational rights in the Middle East. Despite being only nineteen, Yousafzai has overcome suppression, surviving an attempt on her life. Malala took an incredible risk by writing about living under Taliban occupation. With international support, her work led to the development of Pakistan’s Right to Education Bill. She is the youngest Nobel Prize laureate ever.
The former Vice President of the United States didn’t flunk out of Yale once, but twice. He went on to work in politics during both the Nixon and Ford administrations. He served as White House Chief of Staff, eventually being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. As Secretary of Defense, he was responsible for overseeing Operation Desert Storm. Cheney was the 46th Vice President of the United States.
Yulia Marushevska is an Ukrainian activist. Marushevska took part in risky protests, where she connected with other activists looking to be heard. As a result, Marushevska went on to produce a video, “I Am Ukrainian.” The video shed light on protestors being killed, the poverty in the country and Ukraine’s right to a democracy. It went viral, exposing tragedy and corruption in the Ukraine.
Muhammad Ali was the heavyweight champion and an Olympic gold medalist. After defeating well-known rivals Joe Frazier and George Foreman, Ali faced a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. As a result, he spent a significant part of his life as a philanthropist, and raised awareness of the disease. He’s still ranked as one of the best athletes of all time.
Jack London, the author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild, got600 rejections from publishers. Due to financial circumstances, he couldn’t graduate from college. Before his success as a writer, London overcame many difficulties such as suffering from scurvy while in the Klondike.
Millicent Fawcett was a passionate suffragist. She’s known for fighting against child marriages and the imprisonment of prostitutes with sexually transmitted diseases. Despite many failures, she became the leader of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. She also led a commission to South Africa, uncovering truths about concentration camps.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King is one of the most inspirational people of all time. As a child, he suffered from depression, eventually attempting suicide. The African American activist and Baptist minister went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He sent a message of peaceful brotherhood to millions around the world before his tragic assassination in 1968.
Bethany Hamilton has been a source of inspiration to many people. After an unfortunate shark attack, the teen surfer lost an arm. She got back into the water, and as a result, she went on to win the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championships. Bethany and her husband welcomed their first child in 2015.
Mary Oliver, the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, wasn’t a college graduate. Instead, she spent seven years aiding in organizing the documents of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. She’s one of the most motivational people and poets, along with the legendary writer Emily Dickinson.