13 Ordinary People Who Changed the World
History is full of iconic figures that changed the world forever. However, they weren’t always iconic. Many of them were once ordinary people that took an extraordinary step. They were often simple people who had no idea they would one day transcend time. Debuting on the New York Times bestseller list, author Brad Meltzer and illustrator Christopher Eliopoulos released a series of biographies for kids. The Ordinary People Who Changed the World series includes I Am Albert Einstein, I Am Rosa Parks, and I Am Martin Luther King.
The series features some of history’s most influential figures. In some cases, they were fighting for their freedom, standing up for equality, or saving lives. On the other hand, many ordinary people did something extraordinary, such as creating a work of art, setting a record, or going places no other human has gone before. Here’s a look at 13 ordinary people who changed the world.
13 Ordinary People Who Changed the World
1. Muhammad Ali
Nicknamed “The Greatest,” African American Muhammad Ali was more than just a great boxer, trash-talker, and athlete. He was a symbol of the civil rights movement and the 60s counterculture. After refusing the Vietnam War draft in 1966, the court found him guilty of draft evasion. He declined the draft due to his moral opposition to the war and religious beliefs.
Stripped of his title and banned from boxing, Ali didn’t fight for four years, awaiting his appeal. With the decision overturned in 1971, Ali returned to boxing to cement his legacy as the greatest of all time. In the process, he became a hero and cultural icon.
2. Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin and spent most of his life in poverty. Despite not attending a fancy law school, Lincoln was self-educated and became a lawyer. Angered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act opening up slavery in certain territories, Lincoln re-entered politics and would change the world forever. After becoming the 16th President, Lincoln preserved the Union, won the American Civil War, and abolished slavery.
3. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ordinary person Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the most influential figures in history. He fought for racial equality and civil rights using nonviolent methods. King was the humble son of a minister who worked in the summer to pay his way to college.
Growing up in Atlanta, King took a position as a minister at the historic Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. When King arrived, the church was heavily involved in the civil rights movement. King soon became one of the leaders standing up to the Jim Crow laws. He protested and marched for civil rights, voting rights, and desegregation.
4. Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks became a symbol of equality and the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus. On December 1, 1955, Parks boarded a bus after a long work day. Despite being seated in the designated section, bus driver James Blake demanded she give up her seat for a white man.
The police arrested Parks for refusing to give up her seat. Her arrest kicked off the Montgomery Bus Boycott, profoundly impacting the civil rights movement. Park’s refusal to give up her seat was pivotal in the civil rights movement.
5. Anne Frank
15-year-old Anne Frank’s dream was to become a world-famous writer. During World War II, Anne and her family hid from the Nazi Army behind a bookcase in her father’s workshop. Anne kept a diary that documented her family’s daily life during that time.
After their arrest in August 1944, the army sent Anne and her sister to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where she likely died in early 1945. Anne’s father, Otto, was the sole survivor and fulfilled his daughter’s wish. In 1947, The Diary of Anne Frank hit bookshelves, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time.
6. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey endured a difficult childhood to become one of the most influential individuals on the planet. Growing up in poverty, Winfrey became pregnant after a sexual assault. Later, the child was born prematurely and died.
Winfrey’s life turned around when she moved to Chicago and began her career in broadcasting. She’s best known as the host of the iconic Oprah Winfrey Show. As one of the wealthiest people in the world, Winfrey is famous for her charity work and philanthropy.
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7. Neil Armstrong
Growing up in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil Armstrong lived an ordinary life but would one day do the extraordinary. In 1950, Armstrong became a naval aviator and fought in the Korean War.
After the war, Armstrong became a test pilot. After joining NASA in the early 60s, Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon on July 20, 1969.
8. Jackie Robinson
In the early 1940s, Jackie Robinson playing Major League Baseball seemed like an impossible dream due to segregation in sports. In 1947, Robinson made history as the first black athlete to cross the color line and play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In 1955, Robinson and the Dodgers won the World Series in a historic moment. Robinson’s talent, personality, and use of nonviolent protest helped him change Major League Baseball. Robinson also impacted desegregation and the civil rights movement.
9. Amelia Earhart
Born and raised in Atchinson, Kansas, Amelia Earhart’s sense of adventure began in her childhood. She would often explore her neighborhood, climb trees, and hunt rats with a rifle. Earhart kept that spirit alive as a pioneer in aviation.
She became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight in 1932. A trailblazer for equality, she also supported the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1930s. Earhart disappeared in 1937 attempting to circumnavigate the globe, which remains one of the world’s biggest unsolved mysteries.
10. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein had a humble upbringing as the child of an engineer and salesman. As a young child, he excelled in math but also loved music and philosophy. Einstein went on to become one of the greatest minds in history. He made numerous groundbreaking discoveries, notably developing the theory of relativity.
11. Helen Keller
As a kid, Helen Keller lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness in the 1880s. She struggled with her disability until meeting Anne Sulivan. After learning to read and write, Keller began earning an education.
In 1900, she started attending Radcliffe College of Harvard University. A few years later, Keller became the first deafblind person to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree. Keller spent the rest of her life as an author, lecturer, and advocate for disability rights.
12. Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman only knew the life of an enslaved person. Born into slavery, she had very few options in life. That didn’t stop Tubman from becoming a symbol of freedom, bravery, and equality.
Tubman and her brothers escaped slavery in 1849, but that’s just the beginning of her story. Tubman went on thirteen missions rescuing 70 enslaved people using the Underground Railroad. Later, she served as a spy for the Union Army during the American Civil War.
13. Jane Goodall
Jane Goodall is best known for studying chimpanzees for more than 60 years. In the early 1960s, she began observing chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park and documented the war between factions. Her groundbreaking work in primatology did not only have an impact on chimpanzee research but also broke down barriers.
At the time, Goodall was the only female in a male-dominated profession. Goodall did incredible work and paved the way for more women to follow in her footsteps.
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