Young Activists Through History

Sophie Chau and Ava De Leon

Sarah Parker Remond

Sarah Parker Remond, born a free woman in 1826, was an abolitionist activist famous for giving her first speech at the age of 16. Even though she was born to a prominent family, Remond struggled for an education in her hometown of Salem, Mass., after being expelled from an unsegregated high school because of backlash from white parents. She was later able to gain an education after she and her family moved to Rhode Island. Later in life, Remond would give speeches across both Britain and the United States, advocating for the abolition of slavery, and, after the Civil War, funds to help freedmen across America. She eventually moved to Italy, gaining a degree in medicine from the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital, and went on to practice medicine for 20 years. Remond died in 1894, leaving behind a legacy of tenacious activism — one that started at just the age of 16. 

Diane Nash

Diane Nash, born in 1938, is a nonviolent Civil Rights activist who was most active during the ‘60s and ‘70s. She first got her start after experiencing racial discriminaton at Fisk University, which propelled her to take a class in nonviolent activism taught by Rev. James Lawson. At the age of 22, she became the Nashville chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which would lead to her participating in and organizing lunch counter sit-ins. After the Freedom Riders, who rode across the American South to protest segregation in the busing system, were met with violence in Alabama and had to retreat, Nash continued to lead the movement all the way to Mississippi. That same year, Nash was arrested for teaching nonviolent workshops to young Black activists. She was charged for contempt of court after refusing to sit at the back of the courtroom and served 10 days in jail. She also faced a two-year sentence for teaching the workshops, but a judge refused to see the case. Today, Diane Nash still advocates for nonviolence and racial equality.

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who was born with cerebral palsy, is a disability rights activist. Keelan-Chaffins attended her first protest when she was six years old to advocate for accessible buses. At the age of seven, Keelan-Chaffins and her mother were arrested in Montreal after they accidentally crossed a protest boundary trying to reach the bathroom. A crowd of protestors gathered outside the police station, chanting, “Free the mother! Free the child!” and Keelan-Chaffins and her mother were eventually released. When she was eight, she became the centerpiece of the Capitol Crawl, a protest where activists crawled up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol building to show how inaccessible much of America was to people with disabilities. Just a few months later, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act would be signed into law. Today, Keelan-Chaffins still participates in activism and has recently published a children’s book about the Capitol Crawl called “All the Way to the Top.”