Charles Young (1864-1922)
Charles Young was the first Black colonel in the United States army, and also a fierce protector of California’s Sequoia trees. Young was the first Black National Parks Superintendent, who dedicated much of his life to environmental preservation and was instrumental in protecting the great Sequoias. If you’ve ever taken a trip to Sequoia National Park and looked up at these massive trees in awe, you have Charles Young to thank for their protection.
Learn more about Charles Young and his work here
Dr. Tyrone Hayes
Dr. Tyrone Hayes is an American biologist, and a researcher at University of Berkeley. Hayes research on the effects of pesticides on frogs helped expose that the pesticide Atrazine was linked to cancer in certain organisms. After the company which made Atrazine, Syngenta, pushed back against his findings in an attempt to block them Hayes published hundreds of papers, and attended seminars all over the country to spread his findings. His work was eventually used in support in a lawsuit against Syngenta which resulted in the company paying water processing plants over $100 million dollars to filter Atrazine from drinking water. Hayes spoke more about his experiences in researching endocrine disrupting pesticides here.
Dr. John Francis
Dr. John Francis, also known as “planetwalker”, showed us all that sometimes silence can be a powerful tool for change. After being horrified by the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill Dr. Francis made the decision to boycott all motorized transportation, a choice which he upheld for the next 22 years, travelling across the United States on foot. He also is famous for taking a 17 year vow of silence, during which he earned three college degrees including a P.h.D. in Land Management. He broke his silence on Earth Day in 1990, on the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and continues to fight for conservation as an environmental educator and policymaker. If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Francis’ work you can watch a TED Talk he gave here.
If you’ve ever watched the TED Talk “Greening the Ghetto” then you know who Majora Carter is. Her inspiring talk (which has racked up several million views to date) outlines how she fought for environmental justice in the South Bronx. Her innovative views on urban renewal have incorporated goals for environmental restoration and protection. She currently works on addressing the connections between economic, ecological, and social degradation and helping people in low income neighborhoods create healthier environments for themselves. Watch her TED Talk here.
MaVynee Oshun Betsch (1935-2005)
MaVyneee Oshyn Betsch was an environmental activist also known as “Beach Lady” who tirelessly worked to protect Florida’s coastal environment. While she was born to an affluent family Betsch donated her life savings of nearly $100,000 to sixty different environmental organizations and causes. Even after she was diagnosed with cancer later in her life she continued her activism until her death in 2005.
Dr. Robert Bullard
Known by many as the father of the environmental justice movement, Dr. Robert Bullard is one of the most influential voices in the field and has been for decades. He conducted the first comprehensive study of ecoracism, looking at where municipal waste sites were located in relationship to communities of color in Houston. In 2013 he was the first African American to be awarded the Sierra Club John Muir Award. Watch this interview to hear him talk about how the climate crisis is both a social and environmental justice issue here.
Marjorie Richard grew up in Norco, Louisiana in a historically Black neighborhood sandwiched between a chemical plant and an oil refinery, both owned by Shell. In 1973 a shell pipeline exploded, killing an elderly woman and a teenage boy. Galvanized by this event Richard an environmental justice citizen’s group which fought for a fair settlement from Shell, and after 13 years eventually won that battle. Her work led her to become the first Black American to win the Goldman Environmental Award in 2004. Watch her story here.
Learn more about Marjorie Richard and her work here
Dr. Dorceta Taylor
Dr. Dorceta Taylor is an environmental sociologist who has been lauded for her work in the fields of environmental justice and racism in the environmental movement. She has written several books on the subject, including The Environment and the People in American Cities: 1600s-1900s which was the first published history of environmental injustice in the United State. Watch this short documentary here to learn more about Dr. Taylor and her important work.