Calendar photo caption: Flint, Michigan, resident Ariana Hawk with her children at a community meeting about the city's lead-contaminated water. (Jake May/MLive.com/The Flint Journal via AP)
In 1969, Black attorney and World War II veteran Floyd McKissick, created Soul City, a community on 500 acres in Warren County, North Carolina. Warren County had the highest percentage of Black residents and was among the poorest counties in the state. Mr. McKissick build a water system, sewage structure, and health clinic, before vital federal funds were pulled from the project.
The state selected Warren County as the dumping site for 50,000 gallons of toxic soil contaminated with PCB, a chemical that remains in the environment for so long and is so dangerous that the U.S. banned its production.
Residents formed Warren County Citizens Concerned About PCBs in response to the state's decision and organized weeks of protests. When they blocked the construction roadway with their bodies, the National Guard and state troopers were called in and over 500 people were arrested.
Warren County residents were unable to stop the creation of the landfill, but they garnered widespread attention and sparked a national movement for environmental justice. The term "environmental racism" was coined by Rev. Benjamin Chavis, then-director of the United Church of Christ's Commission on Racial Justice, to explain the need for the burgeoning movement. The commission found in 1987 that three out of every five Black and Latino Americans lived in communities tainted by toxic waste.
Environmental racial disparities remain today. Black Americans are exposed to 21% more pollution and Latino Americans are exposed to 12% more pollution than white Americans.