How MLK Paved The Way For Animal Rights & Environmental Justice

On the third Monday of January each year, Americans reflect on the impact of one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr.

But MLK’s legacy extends far beyond the modern civil rights movement. In addition to championing equality for Americans of all colors, the Georgia preacher inspired America’s animal welfare and environmental movements, too.

Photo: Wikimedia

On the eve of his assassination, for example, King was applying his policy of non-violent resistance to help sanitation workers strike for better working conditions in Memphis, Tennessee. King refused to stand by while Black Americans worked in unsafe and unsanitary conditions and for just a fraction of the money earned by their White counterparts.

“You don’t get more environmental justice than that,” the executive director of the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, Eddie Bautista, told Grist. “All the environment really is is where you live, work, play, or pray.”

MLK Jr. often gets credit for inspiring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – and he deserves it. But Bautista believes MLK’s impact extends far beyond civil rights, according to the news outlet. After all, MLK understood how race, health, poverty, and pollution are closely intertwined, and his lifelong commitment to environmental justice laid the groundwork for the Clean Water Act, The Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

If King was still alive, Bautista is sure he would be advocating for climate justice, which continues to impact and oppress communities of color. “Climate change is an existential threat that a lot of these folks [in the civil rights movement back then] weren’t as aware of,” Bautista said. “But, if they were around today, these would be some of the same fights they would be fighting.”

But the environment wasn’t the only cause to benefit from MLK’s ongoing quest for social justice. Animal rights leaders also credit the preacher’s advocacy with sparking the nation’s conscience — and inspiring better treatment of animals. “Whenever we speak up for humans or other animals who are being oppressed, abused, or neglected, we’re honoring Dr. King’s commitment to social justice, peace, and equality,” PETA wrote on its website. MLK’s widow and son were so moved by their husband/father’s call for non-violence that they eventually became vegan.

Decades after his death, MLK has become a federal holiday that’s commemorated with acts of service. This is a day to honor King’s legacy – even if you don’t have the day off of work. Picking up trash, donating to an animal shelter, or signing a petition to combat environmental racism are just a few easy ways to promote MLK’s causes. Together we can honor King’s legacy by sharing his commitment to people, pets, and the planet.

How are you celebrating MLK Day this year?

Rare White Badger Captured in Stunning Photo at Point Reyes National Seashore: Click “Next” below!

J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
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