It’s Black History Month, a time to honor and celebrate all the significant contributions that Black people have made throughout the history of the United States. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of these achievements because they have been dismissed, degraded, or deliberately suppressed. At Chocolate Granola, we’d like to take time during this annual celebration to recognize extraordinary contributions by Black environmentalists who have helped highlight the importance of land preservation, environmental justice, sustainable practices, and environmental education.
Charles Young was a graduate of West Point and served as the first Black colonel in the United States Army. Along with several other officers, he lead the infamous group of African American servicemen known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Although many have heard of Buffalo Soldiers – from folklore regarding the bravery of these all-Black regiments and their valor in securing the western expansion of the United States, they are less recognized for their land preservation efforts. Notably, Col. Young and his troops protected the famous Sequoia trees in Sequoia National Park. He and the other Buffalo Soldiers worked tirelessly to keep the park free of poachers and ranchers whose livestock would have damaged the environment. President Barack Obama recognized his vital contributions in 2013 by making his house a national monument to the Buffalo Soldiers.
Dr. Beverly Wright
Dr. Beverly Wright is the founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans, which fights to end environmental racism and health inequality in the Mississippi River corridor. She is also a decorated scholar, professor, and civic leader. She has been repeatedly recognized for her advocacy on behalf of those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, receiving accolades from both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Urban Affairs Association. Dr. Wright co-edited Race, Place and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina with Robert D. Bullard, Ph.D., the father of the environmental justice movement. She has also developed curricula for use in elementary schools that teach children about the importance of the environment and environmental justice. The Deep South Center partners with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to host climate change conferences that bring together HBCU faculty and students, researchers, climate professionals and environmental justice and residents impacted by toxic facilities and severe weather events in order to bridge the gap between theory and the experiential realities of climate change.
Dr. John Francis
There are many different ways to contribute to environmental activism. In 1971 Dr. John Francis was appalled by the San Francisco Bay oil spill and decided to give up motorized transportation. His boycott lasted 22 years, during which time he played the banjo and walked across the United States and Latin America; during his travels, he decided to take a vow of silence to better listen to other people. He completed his undergraduate studies and earned both his master’s and doctorate degrees during his 17 years of silence, which he ended on Earth Day 1990. The United Nations recognized him as an Environmental Program Goodwill Ambassador the following year. After he broke his vow of silence, he later explained his journey, the lessons he gained from silence, and his personal commitment to environmentalism in a 2008 TED talk. Dr. Francis beautifully reflected on his years of silence and environmental activism in Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence and, subsequently in The Ragged Edge of Silence – a prose-filled meditation on appreciating, through silence, the beauty of the planet and our place in it.
No matter where you live, it’s essential for everyone to have a safe and healthy environment in which to prosper. Majora Carter is dedicated to transforming areas that have been historically neglected due to institutionalized racism; she is a native of the Bronx, where she has worked to fight against garbage dumping in her neighborhood and create the first open-waterfront park in the area. She has founded two non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting sustainable living practices in urban areas and runs a consulting group to help other communities incorporate sustainable practices. Her environmental activism earned her the prestigious MacArthur Genius grant in 2005. A year later, Majora delivered an emotionally moving TED talk in which she argues emphatically that environmental justice communities are the canaries in the coal mine, and stakeholders, urban planners, corporations, and community residents need to pull together to solve the important, seemingly intractable problems.