Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 32 Share on Twitter 2 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
Exclusive to OpEd News:
General News    H4'ed 4/3/13

Environmental Justice Movement Loses Warrior-Grandmother Emelda West

By       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   No comments
Follow Me on Twitter     Message Robert Bullard
Become a Fan
  (5 fans)

The nation has lost a fiery warrior for environmental justice. Emelda West, an 87-year-old "take no prisoner" Marine Corps-type leader, who had become a hero to thousands of environmental-justice advocates around the country, died on Saturday, March 30, 2013. She was the proud mother of seven children, nineteen grandchildren, and 24 great grandchildren.

A longtime resident of Convent, Louisiana and a gentle churchgoer, Ms. West was pressed into duty as an activist in her 70s, fighting for environmental justice for her mostly African American community and for other disenfranchised communities across the globe. Her home, community, and environment were under siege from industrial polluters who would turn the strip along the Lower Mississippi River into a toxic "sacrifice zone." From her home on the winding River Road, she witnessed her community undergo a transformation from a place of sugarcane plantations to one heavily dominated and devastated by the petrochemical industry.

Over the years, Ms. West heard about dozens of companies moving into her community that were promising jobs to local residents, though few living in Convent, Louisiana were hired. The plants were so close to residents' homes that employees could actually walk to work.

As an environmental activist, Ms. West helped found the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, a grassroots group that blocked the Shintech polyvinyl chloride plant from being located in Convent. With the assistance of Greenpeace, she traveled all the way to Tokyo and met with company officials, confronting them face-to-face and swearing they would never locate in Convent. Thanks to her hard work and persistence, Shintech never became an unwelcome neighbor in Convent.

She argued forcefully that the EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality should provide equal protection for all Americans, black or white, rich or poor, rural or urban. She had witnessed too much injustice in her long life to stay quiet.

Ms. West on many occasions would concede that she was not an environmental scientist. However, she was quick to add that she could see "real good" with her glasses, and that if common sense were followed, there would be no reason for many environmental injustices. She was fully aware that saturating poor communities of color with pollution didn't' add up in anybody's book--whether that person had a Ph.D. or no degree. Until the very end, she vowed to fight injustice and environmental racism.

Ms. West loved to talk. And people listened. She was a longtime Community Advisory Board member of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University and spoke at many national and international hearings, conferences and summits. Her story has been told in media outlets around the world, including Essence Magazine, The New York Times, and Dutch, French, German and Japanese presses.  She also found a place on the cover of the Dumping in Dixie book(2000, 3rd Edition).

In 2001, her story was featured in Taking Back Our Town, a Lifetime TV movie. In 2002, she was one of twelve women honored at the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. In 2004, she was featured at the National Civil Rights Museum in the Memphis exhibit "Exploring the Legacy."  

Funeral services were held for Ms. West on Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at the Pilgrim full-gospel church at 10118 Legion St., Convent, Louisiana. She was buried at St. Michael Catholic Cemetery in Paulina, Louisiana.

Ms. West will be greatly missed. Her legacy will live forever.

Must Read 1   Inspiring 1   Valuable 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

Robert Bullard Social Media Pages: Facebook Page       Twitter Page       Linked In Page       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

Robert D. Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. His most recent book is entitled "The Wrong Complexion (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Follow Me on Twitter     Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Dumping in Dixie: TVA Toxic Spill Cleaned Up and Shipped to Alabama Blackbelt

Why a U.S. "Southern Initiative" on Climate Justice is Needed

Government Allows BP to Dump Oil-Spill Waste on Black Communities

A Call to Diversify Green Groups and Equitable Funding of People of Color Environmental Justice Groups

MLK Day 2013: Why Transportation is Still a Civil Rights Issue

Over 60 Percent of BP Waste Dumped in Minority Communities

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend