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Polluted Promises

Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town

Melissa Checker
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 275
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  • Book Info
    Polluted Promises
    Book Description:

    Association for Humanist Sociology 2007 Book Award co-winnerJulian Steward Award 2006 Runner-Up!Over the past two decades, environmental racism has become the rallying cry for many communities as they discover the contaminations of toxic chemicals and industrial waste in their own backyards.Living next door to factories and industrial sites for years, the people in these communities often have record health problems and debilitating medical conditions. Melissa Checker tells the story of one such neighborhood, Hyde Park, in Augusta, Georgia, and the tenacious activism of its two hundred African American families. This community, at one time surrounded by nine polluting industries, is struggling to make their voices heard and their community safe again. Polluted Promises shows that even in the post-civil rights era, race and class are still key factors in determining the politics of pollution.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7241-6
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. One You Can Run, but You Canʹt Hyde
    (pp. 1-12)

    On the afternoon of his thirty-ninth birthday, Arthur Smith Jr., a tall, handsome African American¹ man with graying hair and an easy smile, rushed into the library of the Clara E. Jenkins Elementary School. It was 3:30 p.m., and Smith was late. His last engagement, one of four community organization meetings or activities he had attended that day, had run over. Although it was only March, in Augusta, Georgia, heat and humidity had already descended, and small beads of sweat stood out on Smith’s brow. Catching his breath and assuming one of his trademark grins, Smith strode into the room....

  5. Two Race-ing the Environment
    (pp. 13-34)

    For hundreds of communities of color in the United States, what happened in Hyde Park is not an exception but the rule. Race, numerous studies tell us, is the most potent variable in predicting where hazardous waste facilities are located—more powerful than poverty, land values, or homeownership. Three out of every five African Americans and Hispanics and roughly 50 percent of Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans live in communities containing at least one uncontrolled toxic waste site.¹ The percentage of African Americans or Latinos in a census tract significantly predicts whether that tract hosts a toxic waste facility.² African...

  6. Three Old Heads
    (pp. 35-38)

    In 1946, Peter Saulsberry, a tall and still powerfully built octogenarian, paid fifty dollars for some land just outside of downtown Augusta. His fifty-by-one-hundred-foot plot lay smack in the middle of a large triangular field of swampland stretching between two railroad tracks and the Merry Brothers Brickyard. Across another field, the Piedmont Wood Preserving Company processed telephone poles.

    Peter grew up just outside of Waynesboro, Georgia, where his parents were sharecroppers. In the early 1940s, he was drafted into World War II and became an officers’ barber. Once he was released from the service, Peter moved to Augusta and began...

  7. In between the Tracks
    (pp. 39-68)

    The golfer Tiger Woods made history in Augusta, Georgia, in April 1997, when he became the first person of color to win the Masters Tournament. His record-breaking win also entitled Woods to become the third member of color in Augusta National Golf Club,¹ which until 1991 prohibited blacks. The Masters Tournament and Augusta National are Augusta’s main claim to fame, and the city’s economy relies on the tournament’s popularity. In 1999, for instance, the Masters brought $100 million into the city.² Unsurprisingly, three years before Woods’s win, Hyde Park activists chose Masters week to protest the contamination of their neighborhood....

  8. Four Strange Fruit
    (pp. 69-73)

    Stepping onto Louvenia Calloway’s porch, I said hello to two of her neighbors, who crouched there, skinning fish they had just caught in the Savannah River. A tall, thin woman of sixty who looks at least fifteen years younger than her chronological age, Louvenia greeted me with a smile. She ushered me into her front room, and we each sat down on one of two spotless white sofas arranged in an L shape around a glass coffee table with a gold base. Over the coffee table, a gold chandelier hung from the ceiling, and beneath it lay a white carpet....

  9. From Promised Land to Poisoned Land
    (pp. 74-103)

    “This is what Hyde Park looked like when I was young.” It was early evening in mid-October. I sat in the backseat of the Utley family’s midnight blue Buick as we rode through Waynesboro, Georgia, about thirty-five miles south of Augusta. In between rows of Georgia pines, long, dusty fields dotted with light gray puffs of cotton framed either side of the one-lane road. Every so often, we passed a cluster of houses surrounded by wide green lawns. Reverend Charles Utley, fifty-three, a minister and middle school guidance counselor, drove the car and narrated. Next to him sat fifteen-year-old Anthony...

  10. Five Foot Soldiers
    (pp. 104-106)

    Around Hyde Park, Sharon Palmer was known as “Grandma.” All afternoon and on evenings and weekends, children flowed in and out of her house looking for snacks, solace, or both. Sometimes Sharon even intervened in a child-parent dispute, and if things seemed particularly bad, she and her husband, Earl, somehow found some extra room and took a neighboring child in for a while.

    It is no wonder the Palmers’ non-air-conditioned two-bedroom house often appeared to be bursting at the seams. When all six grandkids were in residence (which sometimes happened for a year at a time), a small “shed room”...

  11. Long Is the Struggle, Hard Is the Fight
    (pp. 107-147)

    For most of his forty-odd years, Arthur Smith Jr. lived on Walnut Street in the one-bedroom house where he had grown up. Although officially he lived by himself, Smith was rarely alone. A continuous stream of neighborhood kids and adults flowed through his door to raid his ample supply of sodas, chips, cookies, and conversation. Inside, Smith’s front room (also his office) was almost as crowded with objects as his porch was with people. Almost every inch of wall space was adorned with certificates, photos, buttons, and other mementos (from the local chapter of the Disabled Veterans, New Hope Community...

  12. Six Staying on Board
    (pp. 148-151)

    I visited Melvin Stewart one evening in his ranch-style house in South Augusta, a few miles from Hyde Park. Melvin, whose boyish face and infectious laugh made him seem closer to thirty than his actual age of fifty-four, had never actually lived in the Park, but he had been HAPIC’s treasurer for nearly ten years. As we sat at the kitchen table and discussed Melvin’s history and involvement in HAPIC, the dimming sunlight outside the window cast a pinkish hue on miles of trees and fields that stretched into rural southeast Georgia.

    That view also led to Melvin’s past. Melvin...

  13. Crossing Murky Waters
    (pp. 152-180)

    On an unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon in early April, I bowed my head along with approximately forty other people in the main room of Hyde Park’s Mary Utley Community Center.¹ In his resonant baritone, Reverend Charles Utley led a prayer over lunch. Utley stood with his back to an LCD computer image projector and a wide screen and faced the unusually large crowd of Hyde Park residents who filled the community room that day. Dressed in “Saturday clothes” (sport shirts and khakis, or shorts and T-shirts), they sat at two rows of three long tables, waiting for lunch to begin....

  14. Seven No Progress without Struggle
    (pp. 181-190)

    “End it on a positive note,” said Arthur Smith when I called him in despair, after staring at my blank computer screen for what seemed like an entire day. I had sat down that morning to write the conclusions to nearly six years of research and writing, not to mention a struggle that is very much ongoing. Synthesis was proving more difficult than I had imagined. “Right,” I murmured, thinking of all the ways that my account might portray Hyde Park’s quest for environmental justice as hopeless, foolhardy, or depressing—Goliath besting David time and again.

    Still, I could see...

  15. Appendix A: Methods
    (pp. 191-200)
  16. Appendix B: Getting Involved
    (pp. 201-208)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 209-234)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-260)
  19. Index
    (pp. 261-274)
  20. About the Author
    (pp. 275-275)