Environmental Justice in Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sunday, 20 January 2013 00:00  |  Written by Erica Mukherjee | Article

Martin Luther King, Jr. photo by Trikosko/Library of CongressDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is remembered as a man of principle.  His dedication to equality and nonviolence has shaped the landscape of modern America. That is why he is honored with a federal holiday on the third Monday of January.  Many communities and schools devote this day to the service of others through activities such as food drives, cleaning projects and youth programs. To get involved locally is easy. All you need to do is go to the MLK Day of Service website and enter your zip code to find service projects near you.

We all know Dr. King’s legacy of civil rights and equality. In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed; racial discrimination and segregation were outlawed. Some would say that Dr. King had won his fight. In actuality, he was only beginning. After the legal battle was won, Dr. King strove to raise awareness about structural barriers facing the poor, urban and primarily black community. For instance, access to healthcare, quality education and a clean environment were all issues Dr. King fought for until his assassination in 1968.

Dr. King’s concern for the urban environment has informed and inspired the Environmental Justice movement, which doesn’t recognize the difference between the physical and cultural environment. It is a holistic movement that focuses on all aspects of the surroundings in which people live, work and play. This ecology is not confined to the wilderness, but can also be found at the heart of cities.

The Environmental Justice movement seeks not only to end racism in public policy but also to ensure that these policies are environmentally friendly. As it says on their website, environmental equity means people are being poisoned equally whereas environmental justice means no one is being poisoned, period. This movement focuses on the needs of poor and disadvantaged people who don’t have the resources available to large environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club. The movement drafted seventeen principles in 1991 at its first national leadership summit. The principles, such as “the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment,” directly address the needs of the urban poor.

Although the Environmental Justice movement was not directly conceived by Dr. King, it embodies his spirit. The fight for justice is contested in many arenas, including ecology. This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day think about what service you can perform for the environment of your community. As Dr. King's namesake, the founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

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Comments (3)add
Written by Rick , December 16, 2011
Thanks, Luke. We've corrected the piece accordingly.
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Written by Luke , December 16, 2011
The last quote is by Martin Luther, not Martin Luther King Jr.
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Written by James T , January 19, 2011
Thanks for the thoughtful piece and new angle on Dr. King.
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