A Look Back with Margery Sly and the Special Collections Research Center
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Temple’s Office of Sustainability and Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center teamed up to cull the archives for some of the best photos from this special day in April of 1970 and for a conversation about remembering our environmental and social history.
We spoke with Margery Sly, Director of the Special Collections, to talk about this day and how Earth Day memories from the past help shape a just climate future.
Office of Sustainability/Temple University Libraries: 20 million Americans took action on April 22, 1970. That was more than 10% of the total population of the U.S. at the time. What do you remember about that first ever Earth Day?
Margery: I was a seventh grader at East Ridge Junior HS in Ridgefield, CT, on that first Earth Day. When the administration decided against school-wide programming on the topic, the students, 7th through 9th grade, staged a walkout to draw attention to the issues of the day.
OoS/TUL: April 22nd was picked for the first Earth Day teach-ins and day of action because it fell in between Spring Break and final exams. In Temple University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center, there are some images of college professors and K-12 educators leading students to speak out against pollution to protect the planet. Can you reflect on the unique and critical role of young people, students, teachers, and librarians in making these celebrations what they were and are?
When the administration decided against school-wide programming on the topic, the students, 7th through 9th grade, staged a walkout to draw attention to the issues of the day.
Margery: While I wish more of my generation would have sustained the passion we had for the cause, we did build a movement and are seeing it bearing fruit in younger people now. Despite current rollbacks of environmental protection policies, it’s heartening to see states continue with strong policies and to see activists such as Greta Thunberg receive strong support. Starting in the 1960s at Temple, many of the faculty supported environmental and other movements.
OoS/TUL: If you had to pick a favorite image, item, or collection related to Earth Day (at Temple), what would you pick and why? What should we know about the images, items, and collections related to Earth Day in the Special Collections Research Center?
Margery: As soon as I can get back into the collection, I’ll continue digging in the Contemporary Culture Collection which is full of alternative and counterculture newsletters, pamphlets, ephemera, organization archives, and other materials from across the US. Our copy of the Whole Earth Catalog (Menlo Park, Calif. : Portola Institute, 1970) is an early and emblematic representation of the movement for ecological and social justice. Literally a catalog, it directed its readers to sources of products and tools to help them live lightly on the earth.
Archives of organizations including Delaware Valley Toxics Coalition, Safe Energy Communication Council, Health/PAC, Gray Panthers, Liberation News Service, and neighborhood associations include rich national and regional content, but none of their materials have been digitized yet.
OoS/TUL: What are archivists doing to collect more historical material relating to the environmentalist movement?
Margery: We continue to take a more organic approach, and, rather than gathering an artificial collection of bits and pieces commemorating the day, instead add to existing organization archives, newsletter runs, and other material that places Earth Day in context with the entire environmental movement.