On MLK Day, the NY Times ‘Dotearth blog’ described Uniontown as a modern day battleground for civil rights. The article, “In Alabama, West Point Cadets Explore Polluted Civil Rights”, was written by one of the U.S. Military Academy professors who shared his 2014 experience and visit in Uniontown.
Black Belt Citizens hosted national environmental justice advocates, civil rights activists, and international media in Uniontown during the special Selma Jubilee weekend. The Guardian covered their experience in Alabama and with the Black Belt Citizens President in this article, “Fifty years after Selma, Alabama at the heart of a new civil rights struggle.”
Cadence Bank, Uniontown’s only bank announced its immediate closure. BBC, Uniontown residents, and concerned families wrote letters, made calls, and eventually convinced the bank to stay open.
An NPR reporter visited Uniontown to cover the story of Arrowhead advertising for more coal ash while the state was under investigation for its permitting. The reporter was taken to water run-off leaving the landfill and nothing was reported in the article.
Green Group Holdings joined the World of Coal Ash Conference to continue its advertisement of a safe and green method of waste disposal. Here is a copy of their press release from the event.
Black Belt Citizens and Al Young, Black & Green hosted Building Bridges for Justice to counter the landfill’s request for more ash. The program was facilitated by Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide. The event featured Uniontown residents and allies from around the SE including: Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Hands Off Appalachia, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Al Sierra Student Coalition, Al Rivers Alliance, Magic City Agriculture Project, Al Sustainable Agriculture Network, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE). Here’s a small recap from SACE about the event.
Black Belt Citizens held a press conference on the steps of the Uniontown City Hall to address concerns with the cemetery and landfill, the sewage overflows, and the odors from the cheese plant. The BBC allies that converged and supported the day’s events were Earthjustice, Al Sierra Student Coalition, and the Tn Sierra Student Coalition. Watch this small video by an UNA student who captured her experience.
Al Jazeera America wrote a piece covering wastewater problems in Uniontown and around Al’s Black Belt region entitled, “Filthy water and shoddy sewers plague poor Black Belt counties.” The reporter stated the overflows of raw sewage pose serious health risks, including returns of diseases thought eradicated in the US.
President Calhoun was invited to North Carolina to address the Lee County NAACP and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League about proposals for new coal ash landfills near their homes. Esther urged the community to keep fighting no matter what!
The Southern Movement Assembly held an Organizing Intensive in Uniontown, in part to learn about and support the struggle of the people there against environmental violence. The multi-day training was held at historic Quinn Chapel AME Church and included teachings, planning sessions, and a march on City Hall.
The Center for Public Integrity and NBC released reports about the struggles in Uniontown. CPI called their piece, “Thirty miles from Selma, a different kind of civil rights struggle.” NBC covered residents with a few videos, they called their story, “Welcome to Uniontown: Arrowhead Landfill Battle a Modern Civil Rights Struggle.”
Black Belt Citizens participated in the Alabamians for Restoration Conference, a day of community workshops, cross-sector conversation, and training with a diverse group of partners who united under a common banner to work towards social and climate justice. The conference was organized by the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, AL NAACP, Center for Earth Ethics, Equal Justice Initiative, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and the Climate Speakers Network.
BBC President, Esther Calhoun traveled to Montgomery to address the Dalriada United Methodist Church on the dangers and hazards of living near coal ash.
An Alabama Power Company executive met with the Black Belt Citizens and tried to negotiate and offer partnerships. APCO is Al’s largest producer and holder of coal ash.
Arrowhead Landfill continued to have unpermitted water run-off at its SW cornerand trespass at New Hope Cemetery at its NW corner.
Arrowhead released a video with attempts to advertise its landfill as great corporate neighbor.
BBC President Esther Calhoun traveled to Montgomery, Al to share her experience with the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
AL NAACP and Black Belt Citizens held a press conference at Pitts/New Hope Cemetery about the on-going trespass and desecration of the Black cemetery by the landfill.
In 2016, BBC partnered with Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, to be able to confront and address the Black Belt’s systemic injustices. Today, the group’s led by those most impacted by toxic waste and sewage overflows. Today, the group’s led by those most impacted by state violence and poverty. Today, the group’s dedicated to fighting for economic & environmental justice, working for clean water, and demanding equal rights.
Project South and the Southern Movement Assembly, Uniontown July 2015 [video courtesy of Fayetteville Free Zone]
In 2016, the group became more experienced & educated, and we began a campaign for the human right to clean water and working sanitation. In 2016, BBC Officers and Coordinator met 2-3 times per month to strategicaaly coordinate the work. In 2016, BBC accompilshed the following:
- BBC participated in and/or led 21 educational programs and advocacy events in Uniontown and the Black Belt where we acted for health & justice;
- BBC developed 16 programs for engagement with Al students & youth with different colleges and universities featuring Samford U, Stillman College, Tuskegee U, U of Al Tuscaloosa, U of Al Birmingham, and University of Montevallo; BBC participated in 2 programs with Historically Black Colleges and Universities;
- BBC coordinated 10 programs with faith groups that provided safe space, active leaders and volunteers, locations for strategic meetings, fellowship and much more;
- BBC participated in 9 national trainings, workshops, and speaking engagements in 7 different states including the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington DC; the 6th Extreme Energy Extraction Collaborative Summit in Pa, the Southern Peoples Organizing Intensive in Atlanta, Southern Movement Assembly VI in Chattanooga, the 47th National Conference for Black Lawyers, CoopEcon 2016 in Epes Alabama, the 20th Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference in Jackson Ms, and the US Human Rights Network’s FIHRE, Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education (FIHRE), Retreat at legendary Highlander Research and Education Center;
In 2016, BBC Officers hired their first-ever staff, a part-time coordinator, to help assist their efforts for health and justice. Here’s a 2016 action calendar for BBC:
Black Belt Citizens and Al Young, Black & Green hosted Building Bridges for Justice, MLK weekend, featuring a Saturday Prayer Supper, a tour of Uniontown, community listening session, and cultural infrastructure workshop with a focus on civil rights, environmental justice, and community empowerment.
BBC President Calhoun and Coordinator Johnston traveled to Washington DC on request from the US Commission on Civil Rights to share testimony about living with toxic coal ash. The USCCR stated they would visit Uniontown and investigate Arrowhead. Reporters from the Center for Public Integrity continued their coverage on EPA’s handling of coal ash and environmental justice.
Black Belt Citizens President Calhoun addressed the Southeastern Student Summit for Justice and rallied the students against dumping coal ash in Uniontown. Calhoun’s presentation inspired one of the students to submit a news articles.
BBC hosted Building Bridges for Justice program with a fish fry.
Arrowhead Landfill’s attorneys filed a slapp lawsuit against members of BBC for alleged slander. http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/04/arrowhead_landfill_owners_sue.html#incart_river_mobileshort_index
BBC hosted Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Montgomery for Fighting for Human Rights Tour. Groups visited the sewage sprayfields and New Hope Cemetery where they noticed a bulldozer with impacted community members.
BBC President Calhoun and Coordinator Johnston traveled to Pennsylvania to join the Extreme Energy Extraction Collaborative Summit. BBC connected with community leaders & environmental justice experts from across North America in a 4 day workshop.
ACLU filed for dismissal of slander suit. Their piece, This Poor, Black, Polluted Alabama Town, Speaking Up Gets You Sued,” can be found here, https://www.aclu.org/blog/speak-freely/poor-black-polluted-alabama-town-speaking-gets-you-sued
Black Belt Citizens joined the Southern People’s Initiative in Atlanta, Ga with Project South, the Southern Movement Assembly and over 65 freedom fighters to plan community-determined solutions in this time of crisis.
BBC President Calhoun attended the US Human Rights Network’s FIHRE, Fighting Injustice through Human Rights Education (FIHRE), Retreat at legendary Highlander Research and Education Center to plan a human rights campaign and tactics for Uniontown.
BBC hosted Project South staff for a community program “Growing Local Farmers” which brought together 35 farmers, community leaders, non-government agency staff, and other beautiful people from Al’s Black Belt region to discuss protecting against black land loss by growing businesses, family farms and building cooperative models. BBC and allies confirmed need to work for economic justice in the Black Belt with programs for the youth and those most impacted.
BBC and the US Human Rights Network hosted a community program, “Clean Water and Working Sanitation NOW” featuring a community tour, solidarity action with BBC, and community tribunal. The people’s program was scheduled for and located at the City Council meeting and may have influenced its sudden cancellation.
BBC and Project South hosted the Uniontown Assembly and political forum at Quinn Chapel AME. The community program united people from Uniontown in a political forum.
Uniontown Assembly & Political Forum II brought together over 45+ Uniontown residents who demanded transparent justice from the 1 candidate (not the incumbent) who attended. The forum took place after the City Council meeting and was once again moderated by Pastor Howze of Quinn Chapel AME.
US Commission on Civil Rights released report, “Environmental Justice: Examining the Environmental Protection Agency Compliance and Enforcement of Title VI and E.O. 12,898” mentioning Uniontown over 70 times regarding the US Environmental Protection Agency’s role in environmental justice, complying with the Civil Rights Act, and policies and actions related to coal ash. Center for Public Integrity wrote “Report slams EPA Civil Rights Compliance.”
5 BBC members attended and participated in the Southern Movement Assembly in Chattanooga, Tn along with 350 other participants gathered together for over 13 hours of assembly and even more of fellowship to raise our consciousness, craft our visions, and to strategize our path forward together for a better South.