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ANIMAL LIVES MATTER TOO: What animal advocates owe to the legacy of Martin Luther King

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King’s influence on Henry Spira was so profound, and Spira’s influence on animal advocacy so large, that animal advocates everywhere owe King a debt of appreciation on the day in his honor.

MERRITT CLIFTON: Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968, in whose honor we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, never had any visible direct involvement with animals or animal issues––but he is justly remembered among the greatest influences on the animal rights movement of our time, and the many other animal advocacy causes that have splintered from it.

Martin Luther King Jr. was of course preoccupied with other causes and movements: not only the causes of black people, poor people, and other disadvantaged people in the U.S., but also opposition to the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, during most of King’s lifetime, there was not much of an animal advocacy movement to speak out with, or for…

But while Martin Luther King Jr. was never on record as a voice for animals, and did not live in times where he might have had much opportunity for lending his influential voice to animal causes, his widow, Coretta Scott King, spoke out for animals with her voice, her personal examples of kindness, and her lifestyle choices…

Dick Gregory, meanwhile, often attributed his decision to give up meat to the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. about nonviolence, which were in turn based on the teachings of Indian independence struggle leader Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), a lifelong vegetarian and advocate of vegetarianism… The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to animal advocacy… became manifest through the work of Henry Spira, the founder of Animal Rights International and the Coalition for Nonviolent Food…

In 1973, Spira took a night school course taught by young philosopher Peter Singer. Spira encouraged Singer to expand a 1973 essay on why animals should enjoy rights into the book Animal Liberation, and allowed Singer to sleep on his couch while he was researching and writing it. Inheriting a cat someone left with him at about the same time, Spira began to wonder why we cuddle some animals and eat others. Putting down his fork one night, he became an instant vegan…

Spira may have been the best known major figure in the animal rights movement who personally knew and worked with Martin Luther King Jr., and also with Cesar Chavez, the founder of United Farm Workers, who was a fellow longtime vegetarian. But King’s influence on Spira was so profound, and Spira’s influence on animal advocacy so large, that animal advocates everywhere owe King a debt of appreciation on the day in his honor. SOURCE…

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