Environmental History is Black History

February is Black History Month. While Black excellence should be celebrated daily, Black History Month calls on us to consider how efforts for Black liberation have affected our present and future.

We at Clean AIRE NC are spending the month celebrating and honoring the generations of black environmental and community health advocates working to create a just and healthy future for all. 

Our Community Science Manager, Daisha Wall, created this excellent series in 2022 highlighting black environmental justice leaders. Please give these a read if you haven’t already.

While environmentalism is concerned with humans’ negative impacts on our ecosystems, environmental justice (EJ) takes this a step further. The EJ movement targets the ways that racist and unjust socioeconomic systems can compound to create disproportionate pollution exposure and worse health outcomes for communities of color and low-income families.

Environmental justice principles guide all the work we do at CleanAIRE NC. And we recognize that we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. 

The environmental justice movement was actually born here in North Carolina, emerging from protests against the state’s efforts to bury 6,000 truckloads of PCB-contaminated soil in a Warren County landfill. Residents of the nearby Black farming community had already dealt with decades of racial and economic oppression, and had no confidence in government promises that the facility would keep toxic PCBs out of their drinking water. Their concerns were utterly dismissed.

1982 sit-in in Warren County, NC

In response, enraged environmental and civil rights activists came together to physically block the dump trucks carrying the toxic soil from entering the landfill. They also protested that state officials had intentionally chosen to place the facility in a poor, Black community.

While the residents were ultimately unsuccessful in keeping PCBs out of their community, their protest gained national attention and sparked the EJ movement, eventually inspiring the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991 and the creation of the Principles of Environmental Justice

And the push for environmental justice continues to grow. Government leaders and agencies have created more conscious efforts to address the concerns of EJ communities and rectify the consequences of past governmental and legal inaction. At CleanAIRE NC, we’re committed to partnering with communities on the frontlines of air pollution and the climate crisis. Together, we’re empowering people to monitor environmental threats and engage in advocacy that holds polluters accountable and protects their community’s health. 

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