With the news of Nelson Mandela’s passing, we take a look at his life and those of other human rights leaders, from Mahatma Gandhi to Aung San Suu Kyi. These books tell their powerful stories.
Nelson Mandela’s final year has been filled with commemorations of his tireless efforts to bring civil rights to South Africa. The nation recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid, and a new biopicstarring Idris Elba has brought the leader’s tumultuous and inspiring story to the big screen. Mandela’s book “Conversations with Myself,” with an introduction by Barack Obama, contains myriad writings, speeches and recorded conversations from every stage of the his life, including his early education, his incarceration for political protest, his term as president of South Africa and his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
65 years after his death, Gandhi’s message of non-violent opposition–which he employed to great effect in challenging British rule in India–influences activists and civil rights leaders today. Eknath Easwaran’s “Gandhi the Man” looks at the leader’s surprising–and bumpy–growth from an unsuccessful lawyer to an international hero.
3. The Speech
Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 50th anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in August served as a reminder–if ever a reminder was needed–of the civil rights activist’s lasting influence on American political and social discourse today. Gary Younge’s “The Speech” gives a history of the making and aftereffects of the speech while illuminating King’s general mission to end racial injustice in America.
4. Cesar Chavez
One of the most famous Latin American political activists of all time, Cesar Chavez helped to launch a laborers’-rights movement of Mexican and American Hispanic farm workers in the 1960s and 1970s. He is credited with the slogan “Si, se puede” (“Yes, one can”) and his birthday, March 31, is celebrated as a commemorative holiday in Colorado, California And Texas. Jacques E. Levy’s biography “Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa,” describes how the charismatic former farm worker rose to international prominence and became a figurehead of labor rights in Mexico and the United States.
Eleanor Roosevelt broke FLOTUS form by getting directly involved in the controversial (and mostly unpopular) reform movements of her day. J. William T. Young’ss “Eleanor Roosevelt” showcases her social activism, particularly her efforts to end racial injustice and segregation in government programs, and her groundbreaking collaboration with the NAACP.
Aung San Suu Kyi
In “The Lady and the Peacock,” Peter Popham draws on five years of research to tell the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese political activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate whose tireless (non-violent) opposition to Burma’s military dictatorship has transformed her into a symbol of Burmese independence, even as her efforts have resulted in costs to her own freedom: of the last 21 years, Kyi has spent 15 under house arrest.