Retelling and Reckoning with Environmental Racism

Telling the story of a watershed moment through the words of community members

Wanda Andrews Saunders (left) and Consherto Williams

Telling the story of a watershed moment through the words of community members

Forty years after activism in Warren County, North Carolina, launched the environmental justice movement, a new exhibition at Wilson Special Collections Library tells the story through the perspectives of those who lived it.

“We Birthed the Movement: The Warren County PCB Landfill Protests, 1978-1982” examines how a coalition of concerned citizens, civil rights leaders and environmental activists fought state plans to relocate 60,000 tons of carcinogen-laced soil to the majority Black community of Afton.

Today, the intersection of environmental and civil rights activism present in the Warren County fight is viewed as a watershed moment for the environmental justice movement. Despite this recognition, histories of the fight often leave out the voices of the activists themselves.

One suggestion from the community led to a display about the people supporting the civil rights activists behind the scenes. Another led the curators to organize photos according to the themes of “recognition, resistance and resilience,” three ideas essential to the success of the movement and its long-term impact.

“This flips the dynamic from having the exhibition narrate to having the creator or the subject of materials tell their own story,” said Biff Hollingsworth, collecting and public programming archivist at the Southern Historical Collection. “Now it’s in the words of the community members.”

Read the complete Carolina Story…Opens in new window

Readers Also Viewed...

Portrait of Maxine Brown-Davis

Representation and access, today and tomorrow

Keeping University Libraries up-to-date in today’s fast-paced world

Sam Huener works in the Conservation Laboratory
Faculty Support

Continuous Conservation

Repairing and preserving historic books and papers

Dana Cowen, Sheldon Peck Curator for European and American Art before 1950 at the Ackland Art Museum, at Sloane Art Library

A Continuing Resource

An Ackland curator used library resources to curate a multi-part installation

Regester views a film.

Growing Up with Davis Library

Charlene Regester’s research has brought rare resources on Black history to Carolina’s libraries

Lam in the Fearrington Reading Room with ancient cuneiform tablets.

Discovering Hidden Treasures

A professor found ancient tablets and worked with library staff to share these artifacts

Henley at Davis Library

Uncovering the Past through Digital Research

Text mining and machine learning helped uncover Jim Crow laws in archived North Carolina General Statutes