A common thread running throughout the long story of abolition is the courageous individual standing up for freedom and justice. These heroes aren't all famous, wealthy or in high office. You don't even find them in every history book. They're everyday people, like you and me, from every corner of the globe who choose to demand freedom.

Caretakers serve those escaping to freedom by providing care, support and sanctuary to victims. Defenders, like lawyers and law enforcement officials, use the law to advance freedom. Advocates leverage their personal passion and moral clarity to change the hearts, minds, attitudes and laws in a culture. And lastly, Freedom Fighters intervene to break the physical and mental bonds of slavery, rescuing slaves from bondage often at the risk of their own safety. These are just some of the examples of courageous individuals we see fighting slavery today, and they mirror the types of actions taken by individuals throughout time.

Many of the men and women we celebrate here have been recognized by the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as people who have devoted their lives to the fight against human trafficking. Others have been honored by the Freedom Center and historians of the Underground Railroad era.

But no matter the source or the era, these stories demonstrate a simple truth: The individual standing up for freedom today is not alone, but is part of a long march towards justice that has been carried on for all of human existence. It is the effect of these individual choices, multiplied by the network of other courageous individuals that has expanded freedom throughout time. And it will do so again today.


Henry 'Box' Brown

Frederick Douglass

Margaret Garner

John Parker

Rev. John and Jean Rankin

Robert Smalls

William Still

Harriet Tubman

Asa Philip Randolph

Ida B. Wells

Shirley Chisholm