Monday, January 18, 2016

Martin Luther King Day: Three Conservationists of Color

Dr.Robert Bullard. By Dave Brenner
via Wikimedia Commons
Martin Luther King Day got me thinking about African-American people in conservation and environmentalism. The three people below represent a very small proportion of Americans with African heritage involved in conservation and environmental issues. There were a lot of potential choices, but I chose Dr. Robert Bullard and Rue Mapp because I thought their work reflects Dr. King's legacy of justice and equality (plus I love Mapp's business), while John James Audubon was a surprise and delight to me.

Dr. Robert Bullard, Father of Environmental Justice
Born in 1946, Dr. Bullard began his work in Houston, Texas in the late 1970s. An environmental sociologist, Dr. Bullard identified the siting of garbage dumps in black neighborhoods as part of a wider systematic pattern of injustice. Dumping in Dixie, a book he wrote about his work, is regarded as the first to fully articulate the concept of environmental justice, beginning with the premise that all Americans have a basic right to live in a healthy environment. He has authored eighteen books in total that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and regional equity.

Dr. Bullard remains one of the leading voices of environmental-justice advocacy. He was one of the planners of the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, at which the organizing principles of modern environmental justice were formulated. The Sierra Club recognized his work with the John Muir Award in 2013 and named their new environmental justice award after him in 2014. Bruce Hamilton, Bruce Hamilton, the Sierra Club’s deputy executive director, sees Bullard’s work as central to the Sierra Club’s work today. “The fight for environmental justice should be at the heart of the environmental movement,” Hamilton said. Bullard has expressed concern about the diversity of the national environmental movement, which has not addressed the environmental issues that face low-income and minority communities.  “The right to vote is a basic right, but if you can’t breathe and your health is impaired and you can’t get to the polls, then what does it matter?” When asked what kept him going in his quest for environmental justice, Dr. Bullard replied, "People who fight. People who do not let the garbage and petrochemical plants roll over them."

Thanks to Robert Bullard, the father of environmental justice, we have begun to understand and articulate the concept of environmental justice. I believe it is time for all of us to work harder at realizing it.

Rue Mapp, Entrepreneur and Outdoor Enthusiast
Rue Mapp grew up in Oakland, California, but loved to spend time on her family's ranch north of Napa, where she hunted, fished, biked, and spent hours exploring the woods. In 2009, she rejected the path of business school to begin Outdoor Afro, a business reconnecting African-Americans with the outdoors. The business grew in part from Mapp’s dismay at finding herself among relatively few people of color who embraced the great outdoors. “I didn’t see enough people who looked like me. There was a huge number of people missing out.”

Outdoor Afro currently has 30 trained leaders and over 7,000 active members. Mapp's volunteers lead hiking, climbing, rafting, and camping trips, connecting participants with black history and nature on each one. For now, she is working hard to reconnect people of color to bigger outdoor spaces. But in twenty years, she is “...hoping we’ll be able to go out and experience nature, and it’s no big deal.”

Rue Mapp is leading the way in getting people outdoors while helping us understand that outdoor spaces and experiences are for everyone.

John James Audubon
I suspect most readers will be as surprised by this as I was. John James Audubon, famous wildlife artist and the inspiration behind the National Audubon Society, was born in 1785 in Haiti (then called Saint Domingue), the illegitimate multi-racial son of Jean Audubon, a French sea captain, and Jeanne Rabin, a black Creole slave woman from the Congo who was Audobon senior's chambermaid and mistress. While not all accounts of his parentage use the word 'black' or 'african', Creole is defined as a person of mixed European and black descent, especially in the Caribbean. Audubon is famous for his illustrations in "Birds of America", an anthology of more than 435 species. He also expressed concern about the destruction of birds and their habitats in his later writings and is credited with conducting the first bird banding experiment on the North American continent, which makes him the father of bird banding in the US and Canada.

The Raptor Resource Project is proud to be part of his legacy.

I really enjoyed researching this blog and hope to introduce readers to more conservation heroes this year, including some more favorites of those of us involved with the Raptor Resource Project.



oma sawyer said...

I am thrilled that you shared this particular Blog as I am very familiar with your subjects.
When I was in my senior year; my thesis was about Bigotry and it took me seven months to collect ALL of the information that I wanted and newspaper articles with photos. Two of my subjects were Dr.Robert Bullard and John James Audubon, among others.

( I am Jewish and was born with only one hand so I took anti-semitism and bullying very seriously and still do.)

Mr Maternal Grandparents had an entire "negro" family living in a two bedroom apartment above the garage and they were the cook, chauffeur, yardman and maid and were loved by our entire family.
I saw the "colored only" signs everywhere and from a very young age, this sickened me.

My thesis was presented in a large notebook with articles about all of the above and for twenty some odd years it was placed in the San Antonio Public Library.

I taught my children that we were color-blind and I am proud of all of them because, besides me, they have always had "colored" or "African American" friends in their weddings and today, they are just part of our family.

Sorry for getting off topic, but the three Gentlemen mentioned in your blog are a big part of my heart.

Thanks again for this particular blog (and all of your others).
"Oma" Sawyer

D Williams said...

Oma, thank you for sharing this personal side of yourself. I have always admired you but now I admire you on a whole new level. Thanks for being strong and speaking up against the status quo. The world could use more Omas. (:

Jolene Pitzenberger-Timp said...


Haven't heard from you in years.
Saw you on KWWL last night on the news.
Saw you had a CNN air about the Eagles in 2011.
Very exciting. You are doing great things !

Jackson Junction long lost friend

Carol Berglund said...

Thanks for the info, Amy!