By Christine Joy Ferrer
A tragic car accident in Uganda on June 6, 2009 led to the death of Luke Cole, co-founder and editor emeritus of Race, Poverty, and the Environment journal. Two days before the fatal incident, Luke Cole and his wife, Nancy Shelby, witnessed a wild leopard appear on the side of the road in Uganda. The leopard began walking towards their vehicle. Luke turned the ignition off. A little nervous, they wondered if they should roll their car windows up. The leopard sauntered past. They marveled at their first sight of such a magnificent creature.
“Our life together was an adventure,” says Shelby. “He expanded my boundaries, opened my eyes to things, places, and ideals I would have never otherwise seen or known. And he did the same for all the hundreds of lives he’s touched.”
Luke was an outstanding environmental justice lawyer who won many cases, set precedent, and built the environmental justice movement. He litigated on behalf of farm workers in the Central Valley who dealt with toxic plumes of pesticides blowing off the fields into their homes; and for an impoverished New Jersey black community suffering from high levels of exposure to dangerous pollutants. His legal victories shut down California’s dairy farm industry until it figured out a better way to dispose of its wastes; stopped the construction of toxic waste incinerators; and more recently, ended the pollution of an Alaskan village’s drinking water. He sued ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and over a dozen power and coal companies for contributing to global warming.