When we think of Martin Luther King, Jr, the environment and sustainability are not what comes to mind. However, his vision of basic civil rights went well past freedom, equality, and the end of racial segregation. He also believed everyone has the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in healthy and nurturing natural environments.
Here’s what he said in 1967:
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world?
You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.
This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.” – 1967 Christmas sermon on peace
Environmentalists watched as King’s movement moved the conscience of the nation and pressed Congress to enact the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and other landmark legislation aimed at making racial equality the law of the land. His actions planted the seeds of the environmental justice movement.
The result was the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. It makes environmental considerations mandatory for major actions undertaken or permitted by the federal government and guarantees that public environmental concerns will be heard.
As former US Attorney General Eric Holder said:
“Dr. King did not have the chance to witness the impact of the movement that he began. But he left with us the creed that continues to guide our work. His enduring words, which he penned from a Birmingham jail cell, still remind us that, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
How will you honor MLK’s work today and everyday?