10 Ordinary People Who Changed the Course of History

by Rishika Jain2 years ago
Picture 10 Ordinary People Who Changed the Course of History

Many influential figures from history were ordinary people who did something extraordinary and left their mark on history. World history is filled with courageous people who had the power and self-confidence to change the course of history. Many people were born ordinary but died after living influential or above-ordinary lives. These people changed history by assassinating famous figures, founding empires, doing something courageous that impacted lives, or raising their voice against injustice. These people indirectly created the world that we are living in right now. Let’s see such cases of 10 ordinary people who changed the course of history.

1 Zhu Yuanzhang, who came from a poor peasant family in China in the 14th century, rose to become the first emperor of the reign of Hongwu in 1368 CE. He went from having no food to eat to become the emperor who ushered in the Ming Dynasty and relegating the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty to the history books.

Zhu Yuanzhang
Zhu Yuanzhang. Image Credit: min.news

Zhu Yuanzhang was from an ordinary poor peasant family in China in the 14th century. He lived on rented land, and his family labored very hard to raise their crops. In 1344, the area where the Zhu family lived was hit by drought. His parents and elder brother died due to it. After this incident, Zhu decided to set off for Huangjue Temple. However, the Huangjue Temple was also hit by drought, so they rejected Zhu as a vagrant and sent him to wander the west side of China.

While Zhu was surviving and wandering, he joined a rebel group, the Red Turbans. Zhu kept rising in their ranks, and in 1355, he became the leader of Red Turbans. Later, he conquered China with the help of his army and ended the reign of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty, and also forced them to retreat to the Eurasian steppe.

Zhe established the Ming Dynasty after claiming the Mandate of Heaven at the beginning of 1368. Zhu Yuanzhang was the true example of rising from rags to riches and how the son of a peasant changed the course of history. (1, 2)


2 Mahatma Gandhi was an ordinary Indian lawyer who led India to independence. He led the non-cooperation movement in India in the 1920s. His most recognizable protest was when thousands of people marched to a coastal town to produce salt in 1930 on which the Britishers had a monopoly. He struggled all his life for freedom and is known as the nation’s Founding Father.

Mahatma Gandhi
Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Mahatma Gandhi was born in 1869 in Gujarat, India. He studied law in London and then moved to southeastern Africa to practice law. He was thrown from a train due to racial discrimination. He developed a philosophy of “satyagraha,” which means “truth-focused and non-violent.”

After he returned to India, he began pushing India towards independence and was elected to the Indian National Congress political party. In the 1920s, he started a non-cooperation movement in which he encouraged Indians to become self-reliant and boycott British goods and traditions.

In 1930, Gandhi organized a massive satyagraha, which is known as the “Salt Satyagraha” against the monopoly of the British on salt. He organized a long protest march of around 241 miles to the west coast of Gujarat, where he and his supporters harvested salt on the shores of the Arabian Sea.

However, Gandhi’s march didn’t affect India’s independence directly, but it encouraged people to question British laws. He had a vast influence on India’s independence and struggled all his life for it. Mahatma Gandhi is known as the nation’s Founding Father and is also a beloved figure worldwide. (1, 2)


3 On December 1, 1955, when Rosa Sparks refused to vacate a bus seat for a White man, she was arrested for violating the city’s racial segregation laws. Her arrest led to the boycott of Montgomery buses. She was the fuel for the American Civil Rights Movement that lasts to this day.

Rosa Sparks
Rosa Parks in her old age (Image to the left): Rosa Parks posing for a front cover days after the bus incident. Image Credit: Schlesinger Library, RIAS, Harvard University/Flickr.com via wikimedia.com, Guernsey/nbcnews.com

Rosa Parks, who was just an ordinary lady, was the fuel for the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was returning from her day at work on a Montgomery bus when she was ordered by the bus driver to go and sit in the back so a White person could sit there. However, she refused and didn’t move to the back. She was arrested for civil disobedience, but her conviction was legally challenged, which, in effect, challenged all the laws on segregation.

Her arrest encouraged the leaders of the local Black community to Boycott the Montgomery bus system which lasted for 381 days and only ended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the act of discrimination on public buses was unconstitutional.

Many other non-violent movements were spurred off of this. She became the symbol of strength and dignity in the struggle to end racial discrimination. President Obama credits Rosa Sparks for being the fuel for the civil rights movement that lasts to this day. (1, 2)


4 Suleiman al-Halabi was an ordinary merchant’s son who assassinated Jean Baptiste Kléber on June 14, 1800. Kléber was the commander of the French campaign in Egypt. The French Army killed al-Halabi, which resulted in a revolt against the French by the Arabs. A year of scatted revolts and British pressure against France led to France to retreat, which crushed their dream of ruling Egypt.

Suleiman al-Halabi
Suleiman al-Halabi (Image to the left); painting of assassination of Kleber Image Credit: AUB Libraries Record/wikimedia.org, Rama/wikimedia.org

Suleiman al-Halabi was a Kurdish man and an ordinary merchant’s son. His father sent him to study Islamic science in Cairo, Egypt in 1797. On June 14, 1800, al-Halabi assassinated the commander of the French campaign in Egypt, Jean Baptiste Kléber. He approached Kléber as a beggar, and when Kléber extended his hand to him, al-Halabi grabbed him and stabbed him four times.

However, al-Halabi was caught by French forces. He was tortured before being executed by anal impalement. However, al-Halabi’s death enraged Arabs, and they raised a revolt against France because of what they did.

After numerous revolts in one year by Arabs and the British pressure against France, they were forced to retreat from Egypt, ending their dreams of ruling there. Suleiman al-Halabi changed the history of French colonization in the Middle East and influenced the history of the Ottomans, too. He was the single person who altered the balance of power. (1, 2)


5 Gavrilo Princep was an ordinary man from rural Bosnia. He assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914. The killings triggered a chain of events that resulted in the outbreak of World War I. The 19-year-old Gavrilo Princep reshaped the world.

 Gavrilo Princep
Gavrilo Princep (Image to the left); Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Image Credit: Sarajevski Atentat/wikimedia.org, Ferdinand Schmutzer/Österreichische Nationalbibliothek via wikimedia.org

Gavrilo Princip was a Bosnian Serb student who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914, which ultimately changed the course of history. Princip belongs to a poor peasant family in Bosnia. He was rejected from taking part in the First Balkan War for being too small and weak.

In 1911, he became a part of “Young Bosnia,” which aimed to merge Bosnia with Serbia and wanted to separate it from Austria-Hungary. In 1912, when Serbians won against the Ottomans, the Austrian military governor of Bosnia declared a state of emergency as the governor closed educational societies and banned all Serbian public culture. He joined the Serbian terrorist organization under Major Vojin Tankosic. 

Three people including Princip were hired to kill Prince Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Tankosic. On June 28, 1914, during an official visit to Sarajevo, Ferdinand and his wife were shot by the then 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip. This assassination led to a rapid chain of events.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, in which Russia supported Serbia and Austria asked for support from Germany, France, and possibly Great Britain. This started the deadly World War I, which collapsed the great powers of Europe. The war ended four years later on November 11, 1918. The 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip changed the course of history and unintentionally created the world we live in. (1, 2)

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