Happy Black History Month!
There is a lot to celebrate this month, and as an environmental organization, we would like to highlight Black Americans’ long and continued history in the push for environmental equity.
The Roots of Environmental Justice
The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” The environmental justice movement was founded by Black, indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), who have been consistently impacted by the negative effects of environmental policy in the United States of America. The events below are just a few catalysts in the movement to reclaim communities’ autonomy, health, and safety.
- In 1979, Margaret Bean and other Houston residents filed a lawsuit against a plan to locate a municipal landfill next to their homes in an 82% Black neighborhood. The lawsuit was the first in the US to charge environmental discrimination in waste facility siting under civil rights laws.
- In 1982, North Carolina created a landfill in Warren County, a predominantly Black area, to dump soil contaminated with the highly toxic and cancerous industrial compound PCB. Residents led six-weeks of protests against the landfill, during which they put their bodies on the line in front of 10,000 truckloads of contaminated PCB soil, leading to 550 arrests. This highly visible action is often credited with launching the environmental justice movement.
- In 1987, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice released its groundbreaking report “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” The report concluded that race is the most significant factor in predicting where commercial hazardous waste facilities are located in the U.S., affirming what many communities had been pointing out for years.
- In 1991, over 700 BIPOC leaders from all 50 states gathered for the first National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. The four-day summit demonstrated the power of multi-racial grassroots organizing for environmental and economic justice. One of the most lasting outcomes of this summit was the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice which were arrived at by consensus-building and continue to be used by organizers today.
Blue Water Baltimore recognizes that water pollution and climate change impacts can affect people differently depending on their race. In Baltimore City, the Urban Heat Island effect disproportionately impacts historically redlined neighborhoods and there are a greater number of sewage backups in predominantly Black neighborhoods as a result of racial disparities in how the city invests in infrastructure. Blue Water Baltimore works with neighborhoods where chronic disinvestment has resulted in stormwater flooding, repeat sewage backups and little tree canopy. By planting trees and installing green stormwater practices, flooding, summer heat, and pollution entering nearby streams are all reduced.
There is still much work to be done to advance environmental equity, like supporting Black led environmental organizations and repairing the damage done to Black communities by polluting industries and poor site-selection decisions. In Baltimore, there are many Black-led organizations restoring trees, connecting kids and families with nature, and advancing urban food cultivation. Find out more about their work, support their efforts and invest in the future of BIPOC-led organizations in Baltimore through the links below. Happy Black History Month!
- Baltimore Tree Trust –“Making Baltimore a greener and healthier place to live.”
- Black Yield Institute -“Cultivating self-determination through Black land & food sovereignty”
- Backyard Basecamp -“Inspiring Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color (BIPOC) across Baltimore City to find nature where they are and empowering them to explore further.”
- Bliss Meadows – A Backyard Basecamp project reclaiming 10 acres of land “at the intersection of environmental and food justice.”
- Black Church Food Security Network –“Organizing and linking the vast resources of historically African American congregations in rural and urban communities to advance food and land sovereignty.”
- Youth Resiliency Institute – Encouraging and supporting “authentic living in the service of just, joyful and sustainable communities.”