This Juneteenth, We Celebrate Black Resilience
Juneteenth is more than a commemoration of Black freedom — an ideal that came with many caveats in the United States. More truthfully, it’s a celebration of our determination to thrive in defiance of slavery’s echoes on our social institutions and the legacy of harm it continues to exact on our communities.
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Since the inaugural Juneteenth in Texas in 1866, Black communities have contended with rigged institutions that sacrifice their health for profit. In environmental reporting, the phrase “predominantly Black” is invariably followed by appalling stories of toxic exposure and virtually nonexistent enforcement of public health laws. Black neighborhoods are disproportionately chosen to house polluting factories and oil refineries, and the residents pay for those decisions in higher rates of cancer, kidney disease, and asthma. It’s a story as old as Jim Crow, but it’s not the only story to tell.
Across the nation, people are reclaiming Black spaces as equally deserving of a healthy environment and protection under the law. Below are stories of some of the communities that Earthjustice is fighting alongside, taking polluters to court and supporting our clients as they reimagine their communities as places where people can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and flourish in their environments.
Residents of River Rouge, a Detroit-area town, cheered when an energy company whose legacy of pollution dates back to the mid-1900s committed to closing its coal plants and offered $7.5 million in clean energy investments for the community. The ink had barely dried on the deal when the Trump administration tried to rip it up, citing that the community benefits went beyond what the government thought was appropriate.
This was a radical interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and it would have set a dangerous precedent for the enforcement of environmental laws. Earthjustice challenged the administration’s meddling on behalf of the Sierra Club and in partnership with local community leaders. In the end, the courts sided with the people of River Rouge, delivering a hard-fought victory for environmental justice.
On the banks of the Mississippi River, coastal Louisiana communities are under siege with the highest concentration of polluting facilities anywhere in the country. The region, dubbed “Cancer Alley” for its high rates of cancer for residents, is at even greater risk of inescapable toxic exposure. If a massive, $9.4 billion petrochemical plant is approved for construction, locals would be forced to breathe chemical emissions equal to that of almost three million cars.
Earthjustice is representing community organization RISE St. James in this court battle. The organization’s founder, Sharon Lavigne, has gained international recognition for her group’s successful resistance of fossil fuels expansion in the region. With Lavigne’s grassroots leadership and Earthjustice’s legal expertise, Big Oil is officially on notice.
Ana Latese for Earthjustice
After Hurricane Irma slammed into Florida in 2017, the community of Dunbar was left without power for twelve days, in stark contrast…