On this day, 50 years after his “I Have a Dream” speech, some of us wonder what one of the greatest champions of rights might have said about the rights of nonhuman animals.
But we don’t have to wonder. Martin Luther King Jr. made his sentiments quite clear:
“Never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the wellbeing of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds on our soul when we look the other way.”
Certainly we can assume that he would continue to work for racial equality. But he would also likely speak out on behalf of those who are still denied certain fundamental rights – including nonhuman animals.
Dr. King opposed all forms of cruelty and violence. And some of the greatest cruelty and violence imaginable is perpetrated every day: against millions of cows, pigs and chickens in factory farms; against animals of all kinds, large and small, in laboratories; and against some of the most iconic kinds of animals – from elephants to dolphins – in the name of entertainment.
Dr. King did not live long enough to extend his circle of compassion, justice, and nonviolence to nonhuman animals, but his wife Coretta Scott King took up a vegan lifestyle in the last 10 years of her life. And his son Dexter Scott King, president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change has led a vegan lifestyle for more than 20 years, saying that it is the logical extension of his father’s philosophy regarding non-violence.
The best way to honor Dr. King’s legacy is to adopt a way of living that’s free of cruelty and injustice toward all living beings.