Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and activist who was a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. He is known as one of the greatest orators in American history.
In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles.
King’s spoken and written words inspired Americans of all stripes and colors to coalesce around what is inherently right as a human being and what it truly means to be an American.
Just days after King's assassination, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Title VIII of the Act, commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, prohibited discrimination in housing on the basis of race, religion, or national origin (later expanded to include sex, familial status, and disability)
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist of Hatian and Puerto Rican descent. Basquiat first achieved notoriety as part of SAMO©, a graffiti duo in the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s. By the 1980s, he was exhibiting his neo-expressionist paintings in galleries and museums internationally.
Basquiat's art focused on "suggestive dichotomies", such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a "springboard to deeper truths about the individual", as well as attacks on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle.
John Muir was a naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and early advocate of preservation of wilderness in the United States. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures in nature, especially in the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, have been read by millions. His activism helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. The Sierra Club, which he founded, is a prominent American conservation organization.
The spiritual quality and enthusiasm toward nature expressed in his over 300 articles and 12 books inspired readers, including presidents and congressmen, to take action to help preserve large nature areas. He is today referred to as the "Father of the National Parks"
Scholars have said that Muir exemplified "the archetype of our oneness with the earth", and that his mission was "...saving the American soul from total surrender to materialism."
Allen Ginsberg was a poet and one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the counterculture that soon would follow. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism and sexual repression while embodying a hostility to bureaucracy and openness to Eastern religions.
Ginsberg is best known for his poem "Howl", in which he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States. In 1957, it became the subject of an obscenity trial, as it described homosexual lifestyle in a time where such a lifestyle was considered taboo and where homosexual acts were against the law. A judge ruled that "Howl" was not obscene, adding, "Would there be any freedom of press or speech if one must reduce his vocabulary to vapid innocuous euphemisms?"
Ginsberg tirelessly took part in decades of non-violent political protest against everything from the Vietnam War to the War on Drugs, which defined his life and legacy just as much as his poetry and writing.
Bob Dylan is a singer, songwriter, artist and writer. He has been indelibly influential in popular music and culture for more than five decades. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when his songs chronicled social unrest, becoming anthems for the American civil rights and anti-war movements. Dylan's lyrics incorporate a wide range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences. They defied existing pop music conventions, redefined the possibilities for musicians and appealed to the burgeoning counterculture. One way he achieved this was through infusing the intellectualism of classic literature and poetry into the realm of the then-popular folk music.
In 2008, The Pulitzer Prize jury awarded him a special citation for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." In 2016, Dylan was the first ever musician awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Shel Silverstein was an American poet, singer-songwriter, cartoonist, screenwriter, and author of children's books. Translated into more than 30 languages, his books have sold over 20 million copies.
When asked about his style, Silverstein remarked, "When I was a kid—12 to 14, I'd much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn't play ball. I couldn't dance. Luckily, the girls didn't want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn't have anybody to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style before I knew of any of the authors who may have influenced or inspired me.”
Silverstein’s work has inspired countless dreamers to believe in their own dreams and have faith in their own creativity, goodness and imagination.