Timeline of Events in the US
A web search of Robert Bullard brings up photos of a perpetually smiling man. His appearance is avuncular or perhaps that of a distant relative that you can picture handing out sweets when the parents aren’t looking. However, behind his jovial smile is the author of 18 books and over 13 dozen articles. All of the published works cover a topic for which he has received multiple awards and is considered “the father” of—that is, environmental justice.
Justice itself is the standard of being fair, impartial, and objectively morally good. In an environmental context, this is the belief that every human being should have impartial protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws, policies, and regulations. Environmental justice is the movement that hopes to secure these rights for communities around the world.
Environmental Justice Timeline in U.S. History
The environmental justice movement was the answer to the injustices associated with environmental racism. Though people of color have been fighting against these injustices for centuries, the well-defined beginning took place alongside the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. From then on, the movement was defined by actionable goals to help communities that were disproportionately affected by pollution.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike to be the first nationally mobilized protest of environmental justice. This protest was about economic justice and safe working conditions, but beyond that, it advocated for the rights and recognition of sanitation workers, who were the backbone of cleaner communities and disease prevention. The unionized workers fought hard for recognition from the City Council and even attempted a strike in 1966 without success.
In 1968, the injustices were brought to the attention of Martin Luther King, Jr, who hoped to incorporate this movement into the Poor People’s Campaign and bring national attention to the struggles faced by the Memphis sanitation workers. From Feb. 11 when the workers unanimously voted to strike until a deal was reached on April 16, the workers intertwined with community and religious leaders conducted daily marches and demonstrations. During this time over 100 demonstrators would be jailed, many more beaten, and at least two dead—a 16-year-old boy and Martin Luther King, Jr. By the end, over 42,000 people had joined the marches, an incredible showing of support for the 1,300 workers on strike. And even then, it was not the first time workers of color had protested.
In the early 1960s, Latino farm workers also fought for workplace rights. Led by Cesar Chavez, they sought protection from the pesticides often used in California’s San Joaquin valley. Cesar Chavez declared that the issues of pesticides was even more important than wages. The workers would go on to join forces with environmental organizations to restrict and eventually ban the use of the pesticide DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) in 1972.
If Robert Bullard is the father of environmental justice, then Linda McKeever Bullard is the movement’s mother. In 1979, she was the Chief Council for what is considered to be the first environmental justice legal case. Residents of Houston neighborhood Northwood Manor objected to the placing of a landfill in their community. When suing the City of Houston and Browning Ferris Industries, they argued they were being discriminated against and their civil rights were violated; Northwood Manor was a predominantly African American neighborhood. It was this case that began the work of Robert Bullard and his studies of the racial and socioeconomic disparities when it came to where garbage dumps were placed within the United States. While this case was not won, it would be used as the framework for later judicial cases within the environmental justice movement.
In the 1980s, the environmental justice movement really…
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