Recognizing Environmental Justice in History: Resistance and Agency in the Cross Bronx Expressway and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike
Document Type Honors Paper
The term environmental justice did not become a part of academic discourse until the 1970s; however, the facts of environmental injustice predate the concept. Minority and low-income communities have historically born a disproportionate burden of the environmental harm associated with economic progress while reaping few of the benefits. The history of the building of the Cross Bronx Expressway from 1948 to 1972 and the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike of 1968 both involve what today can be labeled an environmental justice struggle in response to environmental injustices. Under the radar of the mainly white environmental movement, African Americans and others made strides to combat the harm to their communities and to the environment they encountered. Environmental injustice has been built into the laws of the federal government, and it has funded projects that perpetuate environmental injustice; therefore, the federal government of the United States has been a perpetrator of environmental injustice. Economic hardship, segregation, suburbanization, the construction of highways, urban renewal, and the desire to achieve growth at any coast have laid the groundwork for the environmental injustices of today. During the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, the civil rights struggle was seen as entirely separate from the mainstream environmental movement that was active during the same time; however, the two movements share common goals and could have benefitted from working together to achieve these goals. Transparency and community participation in government are essential to environmental justice. In order to achieve environmental justice, a city street needs to be seen as just as important to preserve as a mountaintop.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.