The protests at Warren County, North Carolina, in the early 1980s led to several critical, galvanizing events in the history of the environmental justice movement. This article suggests that the environmental justice movement — while often characterized as a marriage between the environmental and civil rights movements — has adopted key facets of both movements. The 1990 letter to the so-called “Big 10” marked an evolutionary point that has led the environmental justice movement to establish valuable alliances with some mainstream environmental groups. Additionally, the article suggests from a jurisprudential perspective that civil rights laws in that same period failed the environmental justice movement, thereby challenging the environmental justice movement’s ties to the civil rights movement. This piece first discusses the environmental justice movement’s initial symbiotic relationship with the civil rights movement. It then touches on the history of the mainstream environmental movement, highlighting how racist and classist principles guided the early development of that movement. Finally, it considers how the environmental justice movement evolved in light of those relationships to civil rights and the mainstream environmental movement and suggests how environmental justice might intersect with those movements in the future.
Warren County and the Birth of a Movement: The Troubled Marriage Between Environmentalism and Civil Rights, 1 Golden Gate U. Envtl. L.J.