Happy Earth Day! Cleveland has much to be proud of on this 51st Earth day, and it’s all because of the June 22, 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire. A month after the fire, Time Magazine published an article on the nation’s environmental problems, and it was that article along with Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes’ successful lobbying for better environmental legislation that helped to ignite national environmental policy change. Following the fire Carl Stokes testified before Congress advocating for greater federal involvement in pollution control, which led to the first Earth Day event on April 22, 1970 and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) later that same year.
Although Stokes acknowledged the importance of reducing air and water pollution, as Cleveland’s first black mayor he was the first to broaden the focus on how these issues affect low-income and minority communities. Stokes remarked at the first Earth Day event “I am fearful that the priorities on air and water pollution may be at the expense of what the priorities of the country ought to be: proper housing, adequate food and clothing.” So as we reflect on this Earth Day and continue to champion for the environmental movement, let’s not forget to champion for our urban environments as well.