Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy


As we seek to create a future where every building and every community is sustainable so that every person can thrive, GBA looks to the teachings of Dr. King to inspire courage and clarity in our work. Early on, Dr. King identified connections between racial equity, human health, and environmental justice – connections that remain more tightly intertwined than ever.

Below is a collection of articles we have found useful in examining these connections, as well as Dr. King’s role in uncovering them:


This 2013 LiveScience Op-Ed by Bob Deans on The Environmental Movement’s Debt to Martin Luther King Jr.

“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.” – Bob Deans

This thought-provoking 2020 Washington Post piece by Ayana Elisabeth Johnson on How Racism Derails our Efforts to Save the Planet

“How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streetsin our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?” – Ayana Elizabeth Johnson


This 2019 Marshall Shepherd article for Forbes on Why Climate Change Would Have Alarmed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“King understood environmental justice before any of our scholar papers, and his influence is seen in the current climate justice movement.” – Marshall Shepherd


This 2020 NRDC resource by Marie Beecham on on How to Unite the Fight for Racial Equity and Environmental Action

“To truly achieve an equitable, fair, and greener future, we must defend Black lives and our climate future, together.” – Marie Beecham


This 2019 article from the Potomac Conservancy on Four Ways Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left his mark on the Environmental Movement

“After the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, to join black sanitation workers in protesting polluted and hazardous work conditions. Environmental justice was a growing topic of concern as people of color suffered extensively from an overburden of toxic substances in their communities…”  – Potomac Conservancy


Finally, this article by recent Heinz Award winner Jacqueline Patterson and Mandy Lee of the NAACP explores Why Green Buildings are a Civil-Rights Issue and what it would look like if we were to center equity in the sustainable buildings sector

“So, what would an equitable green building sector look like? It would advance community-wide transition, not just a few green buildings in isolation. Sustainability would be seen as a basic necessity — not a luxury item — in any building project. Low-income communities, communities of color, and women would be at the heart of a better building industry, supported by more inclusive education and professional development pathways. Sustainability investments would prioritize the most impacted communities. And underrepresented communities would be deeply engaged in planning and design, because ‘shaping the environment is best done by the people who live in it,’ according to Professor Dale Glenwood Green of Morgan State University. – Jacqueline Patterson and Mandy Lee


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