HomeEnvironmentEnvironmental Justice'Godfather of Environmental Justice' Reflects on Movement's Four Decades

    ‘Godfather of Environmental Justice’ Reflects on Movement’s Four Decades

    It was exactly four decades ago this month that Rev. Ben Chavis, while sitting in a Warren County jail for driving too slow, came up with the term “environmental racism.”

    Chavis ended up in the hoosegow for driving down a road to lead Warren County residents who were protesting the dumping of deadly toxins in their community.

    “That night in the Warren County jail, I thought to myself, not only is this wrong … this is an environmental wrong, and it’s tantamount to environmental racism,” Chavis said on September 15 while speaking at Duke University’s Wilson Lecture to commemorate 40 years of work with the environmental justice movement.

    More than 500 people were jailed beginning in September 1982 while protesting the state officials’ decision to dump in predominantly Black, rural, and impoverished Warren County more than 60 tons of polychlorinated biphenyls, or…

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