"We were fighting for the right to breathe back then." I'm not sure who made this statement, or where I read it, but I believe the late civil rights icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth used these words to describe the conditions during the civil rights movement as it related to the treatment, or should I say mistreatment, of African Americans. If I am wrong someone please correct me. Over 50 years later we are still fighting for the right to breathe, the difference is now we are fighting for the right to breathe clean air.
None dare call it environmental racism, but that is exactly what is happening with the relocation of the new Mae Jemison High, other public schools, and parks in close proximity to an active rock quarry. What started out as a fight to save the name of J.O.Johnson High School turned into a fight for the rights of students, administrators, teachers, and support personnel in north Huntsville to breathe relatively clean air.Like so many other things, pollution and environmental destruction disproportionately affect both people of color and the economically disadvantaged. This phenomenon is often referred to as environmental injustice and ties together the concepts of racial/economic privilege with unequal burden of the effects of environmental abuse.
Environmental racism is "the process whereby environmental decisions, actions, and policies result in racial discrimination or the creation of racial advantages."
Why would anyone want to build school(s) and a recreational park near an active rock quarry? That is the question.
Would those with the power to make these decisions want their loved ones attending/working in a school built less than a mile from an active rock quarry? I think not.
The city of Huntsville is standing by the school districts assertion the air is "safe to breathe" at the location of the new, illegally named Mae Jemison High School, but to the best of my knowledge they are basing this on one test conducted on one day, in the early morning hours when there was no activity at the rock quarry.
If, I repeat, If, the DOJ approved the building of the new north Huntsville high school based on this one test, I not only have a problem with the BOE and the City of Huntsville, I have a problem with our government.
In July 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (PDF) (13 pp, 23K, About PDF) Title VI of the Civil Rights Act states that "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."The only reason a new school is being built in north Huntsville is because is because south Huntsville wanted a new school. What south Huntsville wants, south Huntsville gets. Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge south Huntsville getting a new school and keeping their name, I just don't believe it should be at the expense of the lives of north Huntsville residents.
In February 1994, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, "Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations." In a separate memorandum, President Clinton identified Title VI as one of several federal laws already in existence that can help "to prevent minority communities and low-income communities from being subject to disproportionately high and adverse environmental effects."