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The Environmental Justice Movement is rooted in Black history

Two Black youth with arms around each other participate in a protest in Warren County. They have signs that say, "We care about our future."

The Environmental Justice Movement would not be what it is today without the Black community who shaped it. This Black History Month, we're honoring the contributions of Black folks to the Environmental Justice Movement.

In 1987, a Black-led group, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, released its groundbreaking study “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.” The report is among the first to find race and ethnicity to be the most prominent variable in predicting both where hazardous waste collection facilities and industries producing large amount of hazardous waste are located in the United States. The report showed race and ethnicity to be a better predictor than household income, home value, and the estimated amount of hazardous waste generated by industry. 

Since then, the Environmental Justice Movement has been trying to address inequalities resulting from industrial contamination and unsustainable development. Since the report, Black-led environmental organizations sought to educate communities and assist groups in organizing, mobilizing, and empowering themselves to take charge of their lives, communities, and surroundings.  

The Black environmental movement also addresses power imbalances, political disfranchisement, and lack of resources to facilitate creating and maintaining healthy, livable, and sustainable communities. Today's multiracial and multicultural environmental justice movement is as much concerned about the environment as any of the traditional white-led environmental groups.  

Black environmentalists were among the first to tie in the Environmental Justice Movement's concerns of wetlands, birds, and wilderness areas with urban habitats, reservations, policy and events happening on the U.S./Mexican border, children poisoned by lead in their own homes, and children playing in contaminated parks and playgrounds. After all, there is only one environment.  

During this Black History Month, let’s take the time and acknowledge the amazing contributions toward environmental justice by the Black community.  

Photo credit: University of North Carolina

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