Florence Robinson

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Florence Robinson

Music by Bill Grass

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Florence Robinson is a retired Professor of Biology who spent many years advocating for her community that faced threats to their health due to the surrounding industry. Her tireless work made her one of the iconic leaders of the environmental justice struggles in Louisiana and earned her the Heinz Award in the Environment. The following bio of Ms Robinson is an excerpt from the Heinz Awards website.

Since she accepted a position as professor of biology at her alma mater, Southern University in the early 1970s, Ms. Robinson has lived in the small community of Alsen, near Devil’s Swamp. Once an idyllic spot, Alsen was home to many newly freed slaves who, settling there after the Civil War, enjoyed cool, clean water and plentiful harvests. That ended in 1964 when an industrial “borrow” pit was opened in Alsen to dispose of hazardous waste. The area was further fouled by 11 nearby petrochemical plants, a commercial hazardous waste incinerator, and several waste landfills.

Statistics from a 1987 study by the New York Commission of Racial Justice concluded that 50 percent of the petrochemical and hazardous waste companies operating in the south do so in areas of high minority concentration. This environmental racism and the controversy surrounding it are not new, but activism in response to it is.

Ms. Robinson had a clear sense of what needed to be done. Because she would not sacrifice her home, or the health of her family and her community, her battle against environmental racism was begun. With quiet but indefatigable determination, she organized her neighbors, and demanded to be heard.

In 1993, she finally was. That year and in 1994, the Superfund Commission convened hearings bringing together Fortune 500 CEOs, national environmental leaders, legislators, and citizens who lived near at-risk sites. An unlikely advocate, Ms. Robinson emerged during those hearings as a passionate and inspiring voice for change. (see the links below to learn more)

This is a map of Alsen, La (blue shaded area), Devil's Swamp (green shaded area), Clean Harbors (red shaded area), Superfund Sites (also red shaded areas) and area industry (red markers).