It is always nice to receive an honor and an award for one's work. This weekend I will be traveling to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities, to accept the Sierra-Club 2013 John Muir Award, the Club's top award. Founded in 1892 by Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and David Brower, the Sierra Club is one of the oldest environmental organizations in the United States. A reporter asked me if I was the first African American to receive this award. My response was, "I hope not!"
Having come of age in the 1960s in "Jim Crow" Alabama, where everything was segregated along racial lines, including housing, transportation, schools, parks and playgrounds, churches, and even environmental organizations, it is highly unlikely that I could have been a member of the Sierra Club in my home town of Elba, Alabama when the first John Muir Award was handed out in 1961. Yet, I am being honored in 2013 with the Club's highest national award. Bridging the racial divide in America has been slow--including the practice of environmentalism.
I must give the Sierra Club kudos for stepping up early, before environmental justice became a popular topic, for publishing two of my 18 books: Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color (1994) and The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (2005).
Finally, in the memory of the many courageous warriors who gave their lives in the pursuit of environmental justice, I humbly accept the Sierra Club 2013 John Muir Award. A few of the environmental justice warriors with whom I worked over the past three decades and who are no longer physically with us today include: Dana Alston (Washington, DC), Luke Cole (San Francisco, CA), Jeanne Guana (Albuquerque, NM), Grover Hankins (Houston, TX), Harry Holt (Dickson, TN), Hazel Johnson (Chicago, IL), Edgar J. Mouton (Mossville, LA), Patsy Ruth Oliver (Texarkana, TX), Damu Smith (Washington, DC); Emelda West (Convent, LA), and Margaret Louise Williams (Pensacola, FL). Their legacy remains alive and well.