Looking Back to SUN Day, May 3, 1978: Southface’s First Birthday
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 changed the public’s perception of the environment. However, while the production and use of energy was a major driver behind many of the serious global and local environmental challenges of the day, few in the environmental community worked on energy issues.
On Wednesday, May 3, 1978, Denis Hayes, one of the leaders behind the first Earth Day, and others organized SUN Day—an international initiative to focus attention on the importance of solar and other clean energy resources. Immediately, there was confusion around the name, especially in the Bible Belt.
A small group of volunteers formed Georgia SUN Day and hosted dozens of events around the state ranging from a “10k Run for the Sun” to a clean energy rally in Woodruff Park on SUN Day featuring speeches, solar displays and a marching band.
On May 3, 1978, it rained in Atlanta. This proved to be ideal weather, as the media plan for CBS News with Walter Cronkite was to cover SUN Day by focusing on a large city with rain. Atlanta was that city. The irony of rain and solar energy was too compelling for television to pass.
Fortunately, the rain held off until the speeches were over. The TV cameras got decent footage. Afterwards, I did my first live radio interview in the rain from a payphone in Woodruff Park.
Denis Hayes went on to direct the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and now heads the Bullitt Foundation. Other SUN Day leaders diffused into government, nonprofit and private sector roles. SUN Day certainly helped influence energy issues in many ways.
There was a SUN Day committee in all 50 states. I’m not aware of any that remain other than Southface. While our name evolved, from Georgia SUN Day to Georgia Solar Coalition to Southface, our mission and values have stayed remarkably consistent. Our impact has been impressive and our future is exciting.
I cannot think of a better example to prove Margaret Mead’s theory, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I remain inspired by the small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who serve as staff, members, volunteers and supporters of Southface.