A Selection of African-American Environmental Heroes


George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver is regarded as one of America's greatest agricultural researchers. His innovations in field of crop rotation are considered to be breakthroughs in preserving soil and making farms more productive. His research developed 325 new products from peanuts and over 100 products derived from sweet potatoes. Carver told his students that nature is the greatest teacher, and that understanding nature is the key to successful agriculture.1


Vernon Jones

Vernon Jones helped change modern perceptions that African-Americans are not interested in environmental causes when he led the fight to preserve public lands in a majority black county in Georgia. The chief executive of DeKalb County near Atlanta, Jones championed the campaign to pass a $125 million bond referendum in March 2000 to buy more land for public parks. The referendum passed by a three-to-two margin.2


John W. Mitchell

John W. Mitchell, a member of the North Carolina A & T University Agriculture Hall of Fame, started out by serving farmers in three North Carolina counties through the state agricultural extension service just after World War I. He traveled three counties exclusively by bicycle or horseback. He organized the Eastern Columbus Credit Union to help African-American farmers save money by buying their supplies together in bulk. His expertise in progressive farming techniques led to his appointment as director of African-American extension services for the State of North Carolina, and later for the entire South for the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the late 1940s.3


Booker T. Washington

Born a slave, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1881. The Institute was one of the pre-eminent institutions of its time for teaching African-Americans in agriculture and conservation. He was an advisor to Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, and was the first African-American to ever dine socially at the White House.4


Walter Williams

Walter Williams is a professor of economics at the George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and a noted lecturer and columnist.5 He is one of the pre-eminent black thinkers of modern times. Unlike establishment environmentalists, Williams points out that there is often a middle ground between economic and environmental goals. Williams said in an interview: "I think one has to recognize that there is a trade-off between clean water and economic welfare... Pollution is a necessary by-product of production. However, we want to take advantage of the technology that exists to keep pollution to a minimum."6



According to James Holmberg, curator of the Filson Club Historical Society, York was "the first African-American to cross the nation coast-to-coast." He had been the slave of explorer William Clark since the two were boys, and accompanied Clark, Merriweather Lewis and Sacagewea on their 1803-1806 cross-continent trek. York's experience as a woodsman and hunter were valued, as was his ability to impress Native Americans. York was treated as an equal during the expedition, and was released from bondage in 1816.7



1 "The Legacy of George Washington Carver," George Washington Carver All-University Celebration, Iowa State University, downloaded from http://www.lib.iastate.edu/spcl/gwc/bio.html on January 3, 2002.

2 Mitch Stacy, "Vernon Jones," Associated Press, 2000, downloaded from http://www.myhero.com/hero.asp?hero=v_jones_ap on January 3, 2002.

3 "Early Black Agricultural Educators Overcame Adversity," North Carolina A & T University, February 18, 1998, downloaded from http://www.ncat.edu/~soa/news/feb98/blackextension.html on January 3, 2002.

4 Louis R. Harlan, "Documenting the American South," University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, downloaded from http://docsouth.unc.edu/washington/about.html on January 3, 2002.

5 George Mason University Department of Economics, 2004.

6 Interview with Tom Randall, Environment and Climate News, The Heartland InstituteFebruary 2000.

7 "Slave with Lewis and Clark Recognized," Associated Press, February 27, 2000.


The Center for Environmental Justice is a joint program of Project 21 and the National Center's John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs

CEJ Main | John P. McGovern M.D. Center for Environmental & Regulatory Affairs | African-American Leadership Group Project 21 | National Center for Public Policy Research Home | Make a Tax-Deductible Donation | Subscribe to Our Newsletters | Read Our Blog