Black Vegetarians – from Civil Rights to Present Day
In honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday, we thought we’d take a moment to recognize some of the contributions made by black vegetarians connected with the civil rights movement, as well as the black community today. While Rev. King was not a vegetarian himself, he showed a growing concern with the plight of animals, as well as people, when he said “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake.” That concern blossomed into the vegan way with his wife Coretta Scott King, and also his son Dexter Scott King who said “Veganism has given me a higher level of awareness and spirituality”
Civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her refusal to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus spurred a city-wide boycott. The city of Montgomery had no choice but to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses. Rosa Parks received many accolades during her lifetime, including the NAACP’s highest award. In 1999, Time magazine named Rosa Parks one of the 20 most influential people of the 20th century.
Rosa Parks maintained a vegetarian lifestyle until she passed away in 2005. “I have been a vegetarian for a few years. It was not hard at all to not eat meat. [Becoming a vegetarian] was something I wanted to do,” she said. Among her favorite vegetables were broccoli, greens, sweet potatoes and string beans.
Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory (born October 12, 1932) is an American comedian, social activist, social critic, writer, and entrepreneur. Gregory is an influential American comic who has used his performance skills to convey, to both white and black audiences, his political message on civil rights. His social satire helped change the way white Americans perceived African-American comedians since he first performed in public.
Mr. Gregory has spent a great deal of his life sharing the wisdom of his experience about the virtues of a vegan food diet for health and disease prevention and animal compassion with a comic twist that is exclusive and unique to the Gregory style. A vegan for over 50 years, Dick founded a health food company and wrote several books including “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature,” which was first published in 1973.
Though not African Americans, we’ll take this opportunity to give recognition to other vegetarian civil rights leaders such as Susan B. Anthony who fought to get women the vote and Cesar Chavez who did so much for Latino rights.
Today, black vegetarians can be found in all walks of life including medicine, sports, entertainment and politics. Milton Mills, MD, an internist practicing at Gilead Medical Group in Washington DC, is a tireless advocate of vegetarian diets, and was the lead plaintiff in the PCRM’s class action lawsuit asking for warning labels on milk. Many black sports stars are leading the movement toward vegetarianism, including David Carter, NFL defensive end most recently with the Chicago Bears and now a vegan advocate. Especially notable, and no doubt benefiting from Dr. Kings tireless civil rights work, is Senator Cory Booker, America’s first black vegetarian US Senator. He has been a vegan for health and environmental reasons since he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.
In the executive branch of government, Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon, presidential candidate and now the Housing and Urban Development Secretary in President Trump’s cabinet, has been vegetarian for many years. In 1990, he was interviewed by Vegetarian Times magazine, where they wrote:
“Carson says health was the main reason for his dietary conversion,” the 15-year-old article observes. “‘There are more diseases that occur from eating meat,’ he says. ‘Not just parasitic diseases, but also things like saturated fats, cholesterol, triglycerides — problems that are compounded by meat eating. It just seems to me that a vegetarian lifestyle is a healthier way to go.’”
We applaud all those who recognize the benefits of a vegetarian diet, and have decided to set an example for their fellow Americans by changing their own diets and talking about the benefits of a vegetarian diet.