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

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

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

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


"Melissa Checker's absorbing story is a portrait of America.Polluted Promisesshowcases the complex links between toxic waste and race, and the hope-filled journeys of environmental activists who are wise, strong, and spiritual in their fight against toxic waste--and for their lives. Checker is doing public anthropology for social justice." - Carol Stack, author of All Our Kin

"I hope that (this book) doesn't get pidgeonholed as a dry, academic treatise, because it is anything but that. It is a wonderfully written account of the struggles by the residents of Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Augusta, Georgia, to undo decades of...environmental racism." - In Brief

"A very rich, organized, and theoretically interesting ethnographic case study of environmental activism. Checker beautifully recounts how the issues of race emerged and were manipulated in social organizing against environmental poisoning." - George E. Marcus, author of Ethnography through Thick and Thin

"Polluted Promisesis a substantial accomplishment. It grounds the notion of environmental justice wonderfully in practical terms, in the theoretically sophisticated and empathetic examination of Hyde Park." - Adolph Reed, Jr., author of Class Notes: Posing As Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene

"A sweeping and brilliant account of a struggle for environmental justice. With clarity and honesty, Checker adroitly exploits the interconnection of race, environment, and civil rights. This is an authoritative and courageous book that should be essential reading for everyone interested in environmental justice." - Bunyan Bryant, editor of Environmental Justice: Issues, Policies, and Solutions

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 Promisesshows that even in the post-civil rights era, race and class are still key factors in determining the politics of pollution.


On the afternoon of his thirty-ninth birthday, Arthur Smith Jr., a tall, handsome African American 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. Seated around three small tables, twelve African American fourth and fifth graders turned their heads.

“Mr. Arthur Jr.'s here,” exclaimed Frank, a bright fourth grader.

Smith walked to the library's windows and stood before the children. Behind him stretched the school's well-trodden brownish green field, with its rusting jungle gym. Framed on two sides by long ditches, the field marked the beginning of Augusta's Hyde Park neighborhood, home to approximately two hundred African American families. If you followed the ditches, which lined both sides of the neighborhood's seven streets, you would see rows of small, mostly one-story shotgunstyle homes surrounded by ample lawns. Some of these houses were freshly whitewashed cottages. Others were covered in peeling paint and leaned on their foundations. Between almost every home and its yard was a porch, usually set up with chairs and often filled with families and neighbors. Some yards bloomed with daisies, chrysanthemums, and lilacs, but since the early 1990s, none included a single patch of vegetables.

Clearing the spring's pollen from his throat, Smith asked, “What's contamination?”

“Pollution,” answered Cherise.

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