01/20/2014 01:47 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Honoring 7 Other Activists Who Gave Their Lives For A Cause


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.

  • Harvey Milk: LGBT Rights
    "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.
  • Benazir Bhutto: Democracy
    "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.
  • Medgar Evers: Racial Justice
    "Freedom has never been free." -Medgar Evers Medgar Evers activism began simply: He wanted to end segregation at the University of Mississippi. But fighting for equality in education was only the beginning of his activist endeavors. He became the NAACP's first field secretary in Mississippi and took on dangerous and controversial work, such as investigating the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. According to the NAACP, as his work became increasingly prominent, he garnered the unwanted attention of extremists and survived several initial attempts on his life. However, in 1963 he was shot in the back in his driveway. He was rushed to the hospital, but he died from his wounds just 50 minutes later.
  • Alexey Davydov: LGBT Rights in Russia
    An outspoken LGBT activist in a country where being outspoken and LGBT is an equation for imprisonment, Alexey Davydov refused to let the danger of his activism dissuade him. He was a constant victim of police brutality, suffering from multiple beatings. According to The New Republic, he was hospitalized for more than a month due to his injuries and he contracted a dangerous kidney infection. Tragically, he slipped into a coma and passed away. His passion and willingness to fight for what he believed in has inspired countless others throughout the Russian LGBT community.
  • Viola Liuzzo: Civil Rights
    "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.
  • Sushmita Banerjee: Women's Rights
    Sushmita Banerjee was an Indian writer and activist who moved to Afghanistan to be with her husband. While in Afghanistan, she witnessed first hand the burgeoning power of Taliban extremists -- even being kidnapped and escaping from one such group. She went on to write an illuminating memoir based on her experience. According to the Daily Beast, her writing and activism on behalf of Afghani women and her criticism of terrorist organizations ultimately caught the attention of a Taliban militia group who kidnapped her from her home. She was found dead the following day.
  • Steve Biko: Anti-Apartheid
    "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."