Looking Back on the First Earth Day: 1970

On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, communities across Michigan learned about and took action for a cleaner planet.  Young people led the way.

  • In Sault Ste. Marie, junior high school students cleaned windows, washed desks, and placed 55-gallon drums outside the school building to collect outdoor trash and stop littering.  A third grader wrote a letter to the editor of the city’s paper, asking, “What will the world be like when I grow up?  Will it be polluted and dirty, and will there be dirty garbage flying in the air?  Will it be a place fit to live in?”
  • In Traverse City, more than 200 people attended an evening meeting at Northwestern Michigan College to learn about environmental challenges. At Traverse City High School, students cleaned up school grounds and listened to a speech by the leader of Students Organized Against Pollution (SOAP).
  • In Ann Arbor, a few weeks before Earth Day, a new University of Michigan student group called ENACT organized events that included an “Environmental Scream-Out,” a tour of local pollution sites, music by popular singer Gordon Lightfoot and speeches by entertainer Arthur Godfrey, scientist Barry Commoner, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Senators Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and Edward Muskie of Maine.
  • In Marquette, students at Northern Michigan University held  a “flush-in.” They flushed fluorescent dye tablets down dorm toilets at a synchronized moment in an effort to prove that sewage was directly discharging into Lake Superior.  
  • In Detroit, Mayor Roman Gribbs was “visibly shaken” by the stink of a nearby incinerator. Students on a cleanup mission found in a western City of Detroit park everything from a half-eaten hamburger to an abandoned car.

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