Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan will join with other leaders and activists to discuss the origins of the environmental justice movement by way of the 1982 protests in Warren County during a special program in the North Carolina Museum of History.
The discussion, “Remembering Warren County: North Carolina and the Continuing Struggle for Environmental Justice” is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at the museum, 5 East Edenton St., Raleigh. Register online for tickets to attend the free event.
Toxic chemicals called PCBs were released under the cover of night along 250 miles of North Carolina roadways. In 1982, a small, predominately African American community in Warren County was designated as the landfill location to hold the PCB-contaminated soil resulting from the illegal dumping. In response to the state’s decision to place the landfill in Warren County, the NAACP and others staged a protest. More than 500 protesters were arrested. While the Warren County protest failed to prevent the siting of the disposal facility, it did provide a national start to the environmental justice movement, according the museum and energy.gov.
The panel is to include the following:
- Michael Regan is current Environmental Protection Agency administrator and former secretary for the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. He is the first Black man and second person of color to lead the EPA. As NCDEQ secretary, he helped implement the state’s plan to address climate change and transition the state to a clean energy economy. He established North Carolina’s Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory board to better align social inequities, environmental protection and community empowerment.
- Dr. Ben Chavis was among the more than 500 people arrested for taking part in the nonviolent protests in Warren County. Chavis went on to serve as executive director and CEO of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. Under his leadership that the organization issued the 1987 report “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.”
- Eva Clayton, at the time of the dumping in Warren County, was chair of Warren County’s Board of Commissioners and worked to get funding and resources for the rural county. In 1992 she was elected to Congress where she became the first Black woman to represent North Carolina. During her term, she advocated for funding to detoxify the contaminated site.
- The Rev. Bill Kearney was born and raised in Warren County. He serves as an associate minister and faith and health ministry coordinator at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church. In 2012, Kearney organized the Warren County Environmental Action Team, which maintains Warren County’s legacy of activism and community organizing as the birthplace of the environmental justice movement.
- Vernice Miller-Travis was a researcher working for the civil rights division of the United Church of Christ in the New York City headquarters during the Warren County protests. She continued to research environmental injustice and environmental racism and in 1987 helped to publish a report by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice called “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States.” She also attended the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit and helped to adopt the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice.