Famous & Notable Humanists

(see bottom of this page for Humanists of the Year)


Thelma Butterfly McQueen, American Actress:

Butterfly McQueen, a lifelong atheist devoted much of her life to community service and is widely remembered as Prissy in Gone with the Wind. She said, “As my ancestors are free from slavery, I am free from the slavery of religion.” 

Born: January 7, 1911/Died: December 22, 1995


James Michener, American Writer:

James Michener, author of Tales of the South Pacific, Centennial, Hawaii, and much else believed that a radio commentator “abused, vilified, and scorned every noble cause” to which Michener was devoted, causing him to say “So I am a humanist. And if you want to charge me with being the most virulent kind-a secular humanist—I accept the accusation.”

Born: February 3, 1907/Died: October 17, 1997


Earl Warren, American Chief Justice, Supreme Court, Politician:

 Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court 1953 -1969, extended the U. S. Bill of Rights to the states, ended public school segregation, increased individual rights of travel, voting, running for public office, and expressing opinions.  Francis X. Beytagh a Notre Dame Law School professor, writing for the 1976 California Law Review described Warren as a “thoroughgoing humanist.”  

Born: March 19, 1891/Died: July 9, 1974


 Clarence Darrow, American Lawyer:

Clarence Darrow a famous criminal defense attorney and ACLU member is remembered for his defense of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in the Bobby Franks murder trial and for his defense of John Scopes in what became the Scopes Monkey Trial. Darrow is reputed to have said, “The fear of God is not the beginning of wisdom. The fear of God is the death of wisdom.”

Born: April 18, 1857/Died: March 13, 1938


 Linus Pauling, American Chemist, Biochemist, Peace Activist, Author, and Educator:

Dr. Linus Pauling, winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize, and author of more than 400 scientific publications, won the 1961 Humanist of the Year Award for his unrelenting efforts to reduce human suffering.

Born: February 28, 1901/Died: August 19, 1994


Anton Carlson, American Physiologist:

Anton J. Carlson received the first American Humanist Association’s Humanist of the Year Award in 1953, the same year he received the American Medical Association’s Service Gold Medal. His research resulted in insulin’s use for treating diabetes, and in improved understanding of alcoholism and ageing. He said, “The supernatural has no support in science, is incompatible with science, (and) is frequently an active foe of science.” 

Born: January 29, 1875/Died: September 2, 1956


Jonas Salk, American Medical Researcher and Virologist:

Dr. Jonas Salk became famous after a 1955 successful trial of his vaccine made possible the prevention of polio.  He was awarded the 1976 Humanist of the Year Award, the 1976 J. Nehru Award for International Understanding, and the 1977 Presidential Medal of Freedom. “I see the triumph of good over evil as the manifestation of the error correcting process of evolution.”

Born: October 28, 1914/Died: June 23, 1995


John Lennon, English Musician, Singer and Songwriter:

John Lennon’s 1971 song, Imagine, begins with the humanistic or atheistic idea of people living for today and not worrying about heaven or hell. Lennon said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink.” Robin Blacburn of Counter Punch Magazine quoted Lennon as saying, “I had to do it (feel my own pain) to really kill off all the religious myths.” “It’s all down to you, mate.” Lennon’s words seem atheistic, humanistic, and anti Christian.

Born: October 14, 1940/Died: December 8, 1980


Carl Sagan, American Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Cosmologist, Author:

Carl Sagan helped design space exploration programs including the Voyagers and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Cosmos, The Pale Blue Dot, and Contact are among his more than 600 creations. His Baloney Detection Kit exemplifies his ability to make scientific reasoning easily understandable.  Sagan described himself as an agnostic and Ann Druyan described Sagan at his death “as a skeptic, agnostic, and freethinker.” Sagan received the 1981 Humanist of the Year Award.  

Born: November 9, 1934/Died: December 20, 1996


Carter Woodson, Historian, Author, Journalist:

Carter G. Woodson, “the father of black history”, was the African American scholar whose work led to his 1926 proposal for Black History Week which became Black History Month. He believed that ritualistic religion would not help African-Americans achieve dignity and justice because it was controlled by those offering only segregated opportunities. Norman Robert Allen, Jr., founder of African Americans for Humanism, included Woodson among “black deists, humanists, agnostics, freethinkers, rationalists, and atheists” whose ideas can be explored. 

Born: December 19, 1875/Died: April 3, 1950


Mark Hatcher, Neurophysiologist, Student Organizer:

Thirty-three year old neurophysiologist Ph.D. candidate, Mark D. Hatcher, organized Secular Students of Howard University, “the first officially recognized secular organization to be held at a historically black college.” Hatcher’s writings demonstrate “how important science education and critical thinking are to academic, social and financial success.” He believes that “religion acts as a vacuum on the resources of the black community”. See another discussion of his activities on the African Americans for Humanism web site

Born (date unknown)/Died (living)


Annie Gaylor, Co-founder of Freedom from Religion, Co-Chair AHA Feminist Caucus, Author:

Annie Laurie Gaylor, a leading humanist, co-founded the Freedom from Religion Foundation and co-chaired the American Humanist Association’s Feminist Caucus for 15 years. She wrote Women without Superstition and the first book exposing religious pedophiles. “She led a protest against prayers at the University of Wisconsin graduation ceremonies” and her later protest led to a judge’s recall after he implied that the way women dressed might excuse rape. 

Born: November 2, 1955/Died: (living)


Kurt Vonnegut, American Writer:

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., an honorary American Humanist Association president, described himself as “a skeptic, freethinker, humanist, Unitarian Universalist, agnostic, and atheist who “considered religious doctrine to be so much arbitrary, clearly invented balderdash.” About Humanism itself, he said: “We Humanists behave as honorably as we can without any expectations of rewards or punishments in the afterlife.  We serve as best we can the only abstraction with which we have any familiarity, which is our community.” He made fun of life threatening situations with humor and satire in Cat’s Cradle, Slaughter House-Five, Breakfast of Champions, and Welcome to the Monkey House.

Born: November 11, 1922/Died: April 11, 2007


HUMANISTS OF THE YEAR—American Humanist Association

The Humanist of the Year award was established in 1953 by the American Humanist Association to recognize a person of national or international reputation who, through the application of humanist values, has made a significant contribution to the improvement of the human condition.

They are:

 Jennifer Ouellette – 2018; Adam Savage – 2017; Jared Diamond – 2016; Lawrence M. Krauss – 2015;  Barney Frank – 2014; Dan Savage – 2013; Gloria Steinem – 2012; Rebecca Newberger Goldstein – 2011; Bill Nye – 2010; PZ Myers – 2009; Pete Stark – 2008; Joyce Carol Oates – 2007; Steven Pinker – 2006; Murray Gell-Mann – 2005; Daniel C. Dennett – 2004; Sherwin T. Wine – 2003; Steven Weinberg – 2002; Stephen Jay Gould – 2001; Bill Schulz – 2000; Edward O. Wilson – 1999; Barbara Ehrenreich – 1998; Alice Walker – 1997; Richard Dawkins – 1996; Ashley Montagu – 1995; Lloyd Morain – 1994; Mary Morain – 1994; Richard D. Lamm – 1993; Kurt Vonnegut – 1992; Lester R. Brown – 1991; Werner Fornos – 1991; Ted Turner – 1990; Gerald A. Larue – 1989; Leo Pfeffer – 1988; Margaret Atwood – 1987; Faye Wattleton – 1986; John Kenneth Galbraith – 1985; Isaac Asimov – 1984; Lester A. Kirkendall – 1983; Helen Caldicott ;- 1982; Carl Sagan – 1981; Andrei Sakharov – 1980; Edwin H. Wilson – 1979; Margaret E. Kuhn – 1978; Corliss Lamont – 1977; Jonas E. Salk – 1976; Betty Friedan – 1975; Henry Morgentaler – 1975; Mary Calderone – 1974; Joseph Fletcher – 1974; Thomas Szasz – 1973; B.F. Skinner – 1972; Albert Ellis – 1971; A. Philip Randolph – 1970; R. Buckminster Fuller – 1969; ; Benjamin Spock – 1968; Abraham H. Maslow – 1967; Erich Fromm – 1966; Hudson Hoagland – 1965; Carl Rogers – 1964; Hermann J. Muller – 1963; Julian Huxley – 1962; Linus Pauling – 1961; Leo Szilard – 1960; Brock Chisholm – 1959; Oscar Riddle – 1958; Margaret Sanger – 1957; C. Judson Herrick – 1956; James P. Warbasse – 1955; Arthur F. Bendley – 1954; Anton J. Carlson – 1953


More Famous and Notable Humanists To Be Arriving Soon!


sweden vs US incarceration