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Fighting for Our Future: The Origins of Earth Day and its Impact in Wabash County

Updated: Jun 22

In 1962, marine biologist and conservationist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that went on to dramatically alter national ,and global, understanding of the connection between the environment and public health. Carson’s book sold more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries, and set the stage for environmental activism and the creation of the first Earth Day.

The catalyst for the national Earth Day celebration came from Junior Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin. In 1969, Nelson witnessed the catastrophic aftermath of the Santa Barbara oil spill which, at the time, was the largest oil spill to occur in U.S. waters. Nelson was also keenly aware of the intense anti-war student activism that was unifying college campuses across the country. Inspired by student passion, Nelson wanted to find a way to combine their energy with environmental activism. With the help of others, such as Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey and activist Denis Hayes, Nelson organized teach-ins across the U.S. during the week of April 22. The selected week was no mistake; the week of April 22 landed between spring break and final exams, and therefore would ensure maximum student participation.

The teach-ins were a success as other activist groups joined in the efforts of organized protests and rallies, and as the events grew in popularity, April 22 became known as Earth Day. Part of what made Earth Day such a triumphant success was the fact that it achieved rare alignment between Republicans and Democrats, the rich and poor, urban and rural, and other dichotomies. All across America there was a uniform consensus that a change needed to happen. Before the end of 1970, environmental activism directly led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, the passing of the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Education Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and more.

Citizens of Wabash County joined their fellow Americans in 1970 and held their own rallies and activities on April 22. A few examples include Manchester College, now Manchester University, who held an Eco-Rally of nearly 100 people. Students and others gathered on the campus mall to listen to songs from Joe Detrick, speeches, and to chant a rally cry of “Sun Power, Tree Power, Lake Power, Grass Power!” A letter from Senator Vance Hartke was read in support of the activism efforts, and Manchester Town Board member Jack Williams stated his hope that North Manchester could someday be the cleanest small town in Indiana. The Manchester High School science club students also joined in on the events and organized a roadside trash cleanup. The findings were displayed in a cart in the student parking lot as a reminder of the damage of pollution.



Sources:

Bittinger, Sara. (1970, April 23). “Action Pledged at Eco-Rally.” Wabash Plain Dealer. Wabash County Museum Archives.


Bolinger, Cheryl. (1970, April 23). “MHS Cleans Roadside.” Wabash Plain Dealer. Wabash County Museum Archives.


The History of Earth Day. (2021, July 2). Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.earthday.org/history/


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