5 Youth Activists Who Left Their Mark on History

— Written By Luke Shealy and last updated by
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5 Youth Activists Who Left Their Mark on History

Young people are the change-makers. We’ve always been at the front of new movements and to this day we’re still leading the charge! But why do we barely learn about the contributions of youth throughout history? We believe that young people studying history should learn about young people of history! These five activists all withstood hundreds of people who spoke out against them and who questioned their every action. Despite the opposition, they carried on and achieved lasting impact.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

This heroine of France led armies, captured forts, saw visions, and was continually questioned at every turn by the Church all while she was a teenager. Late into the hundred years war, Joan, born of a peasant family, claimed to have seen visions sent from the archangel Micheal telling her to support Charles VII as king of France and to drive the English out of France. She went to the king who heard her out but was initially hesitant of giving her an army. After much questioning and tests,she was eventually equipped for war. Joan was a symbol for the supporters of Charles VII. Her victories were swift and many. However, she was eventually captured by supporters of the English. After two trails and being forced to sign court documents while illiterate, Joan was burned at the stake for charges that included heresy and dressing as a man. Her legacy, however, would survive and grow. She was canonized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1920.

Greensboro Four

The Greensboro Four

[From left to right:David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair, Jr.), and Joseph McNeil]

Jibreel Khazan (formerly Ezell Blair, Jr.), Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, and David Richmond led the most prominent sit-in during the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University freshmen hatched their plan to stand up to oppressive segregation after the killing of young Emmett Till. On February 1st of 1960 they walked into a segregated Woolworth’s, made several small purchases, then sat at the white’s only lunch counter and asked to be served. When they were refused service, the four protesters simply remained seated, forcing the store to close early. The next day, these same four young men took their seats at the counter, asked to be served, and again were refused service. Television reports of their non-violent protest spread across the country which encouraged many other sit-ins. It took more than 6 months for Woolworth’s to remove their racists policies, but these four brave students did more than integrate their local lunch spot; their actions kindled non-violent revolution.

Marquis de Lafayette

Marquis de Lafayette

There is A LOT that can be said about the Frenchman who was a hero of two worlds. From a wealthy French family steeped in military tradition, Lafayette was commissioned an officer at the ripe old age of 13. Filled with conviction for the righteous cause of independence, he left to join the revolution in the American Colonies at 19. He became close to General George Washington and eventually gained command of troops. He returned to France and worked alongside Benjamin Franklin in requesting French ships and soldiers to be sent to aid Washington in the colonies. In the battles surrounding Yorktown, Lafayette and his soldiers helped to harass and trap General Cornwallis allowing for the French Navy to arrive and put an end to the war. Lafayette later returned to France and became a major figure in the French Revolution and the French Abolition movement.

Hans and Sophie Scholl

Sophie SchollHans Scholl

This brother and sister duo were students studying at the University of Munich at the time of the Nazi regieme. They helped found a non-violent resistance group called The White Rose. The secret group published pamphlets denouncing the Natzi party and ecouraging resistance from fellow German citizens. They primarily used intellectual arguments drawing from the Bible and philosophers such as Aristotle and Novalis. The group distributed their pamphlets across the country and used stencils to graffiti slogans such as “down with Hiter.” While trying to distribute leaflets before their University’s class, they were caught by the maintenance man, tried before the court, and executed by guillotine for treason.

Claudette Colvin

Claudette Colvin

Nine months before Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a crowded, segregated bus. She was only 15. As the police forcefully removed her from the bus, Colvin reportedly yelled ‘It’s my constitutional right!.” She was tried in a juvenile court and bailed out by her minister. Even though Colvin’s courageous actions preceded those of Rosa Parks, civil rights leaders did not want to publicize her arrest. This is thought to have been because she was an unmarried teenage reportedly pregnant with the child of a married man. Although she’s never received the recognition she deserves, Claudette Colvin’s actions in the face of intimidation and legal racism demonstrate the power of youth activism.

Discussion Questions

Do you feel like young people’s leadership is discussed often enough in history? Why or why not?

What other young historical activists can you think of?

What are the benefits of learning about young historical activists?