*The emboldened quotes in this piece come from King’s various speeches and writings.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is known in our mainstream conscience as one of the most towering and influential figures in the struggle for civil rights around the world. His message of love and equality helped spark the civil rights movement of the 1960s, a movement that lives on today. It also set the tone for an environmental and ecological justice movement that would grow steadily after his death in 1968.
Years before the first Earth Day, King preached the message of equality for all – including our planet. He laid out a symbiotic vision of the interconnectedness of all beings. This theme is central to his teaching and preaching, that we are all part of one Earth, one universe, connected by the strands of our love for one another. That we should care for our planet with the same dignity we care for each other.
“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s
punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”
At no time was his message more poignant than later in his life when King began speaking out against the larger forces of oppression at work in the world. Beyond white supremacy within the borders of the U.S., he linked the issues of poverty, racism, and environmental justice together – an interrelation that we have come to see more clearly than ever today.
King spoke vigorously against US imperialism and the war in Vietnam, connecting the struggle of the Vietnamese people to the struggle of the marginalized poor in the U.S. He knew the cost of war, the lives of soldiers and innocent human beings lost bore most heavily on the poor in both countries.
“I must make it clear. For me justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
King gracefully linked the injustices of war and included the importance of environmental justice at length, saying during a lecture series in 1967, “The cities are gasping in polluted air and enduring contaminated water.” He made clear the injustice of spending billions on war while devoting so little to the poor.
By 1968, King began calling for a “revolution of values” in the U.S. He helped build a broad coalition of marginalized and oppressed communities throughout the country, formulating The Poor Peoples Campaign. The work of the campaign was to “confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.”
“We’ve played havoc with the destiny of the world. Somewhere we must make it clear that we are concerned about the survival of the world.”
King’s sacred view of nature was rooted in an eco-spiritual tradition that now sits at the heart of the environmental movement around the world. He explained that it is not only our survival that rests on creating a sustainable planet for all, but also our moral duty. King expanded on this vision, saying in a 1967 television interview, “It would be foolhardy for me to work for integrated schools or integrated lunch counters and not be concerned about the survival of the world in which to be integrated.”
While he did not live to see the first Earth Day in 1970, his message rang throughout the ceremonies and inspired the millions that took part in them. Without King’s universal perspective on our planet and our fellow human beings, the environmental movement of today might lack this deep understanding of interconnection and justice.
“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.”
Thank you Rev. King for your many contributions to our world. Thank you for your dreams that woke us to injustice and for the hope you inspired in us. At Green Building Alliance, we join the nation in honoring you and celebrating your life today and every day.
Rev. King was a brother in the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the first of the Divine 9 Black Greek letter organizations. The fraternity seeks for its programs and initiatives to offer tangible examples of Love for all Mankind. We invite you to join us and our friends at SHOUT to learn more about Alpha Phi Alpha and the other organizations in the Divine 9.
In honor of Black History Month, the SHOUT students invite you to explore The Divine 9: the nine historically Black Greek letter organizations that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council. Not only do many critical historical figures belong to these sororities and fraternities – Martin Luther King, Jr. and Shirley Chisholm among them – but so do our country’s future leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris and newly elected Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock.