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Environmental Activism and the Urban Crisis

Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago

Robert Gioielli

Publication Year: 2014

Environmental Activism and the Urban Crisis focuses on the wave of environmental activism and grassroots movements that swept through America's older, industrial cities during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Robert Gioielli offers incisive case studies of Baltimore, St. Louis, and Chicago to show how urban activism developed as an impassioned response to a host of racial, social, and political conflicts. As deindustrialization, urban renewal, and suburbanization caused the decline of the urban environment, residents--primarily African Americans and working-class whites--organized to protect their families and communities from health threats and environmental destruction.


Gioielli examines various groups' activism in response to specific environmental problems caused by the urban crisis in each city. In doing so, he forms concrete connections between environmentalism, the African American freedom struggle, and various urban social movements such as highway protests in Baltimore and air pollution activism in Chicago. Eventually, the efforts of these activists paved the way for the emergence of a new movement-environmental justice.


Published by: Temple University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

A decade ago, after two years of writing about the conflicts between resort development, the environment, and rural communities on the coast of South Carolina, I thought it would be interesting to study the history of these clashes. On the shelves of the Beaufort County Library I found a book by Zane Miller and was delighted to discover that there was such a thing as urban history. Exploring the field brought me to the University of Cincinnati, where...

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Introduction: The Uncounted Environmentalists

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pp. 1-10

Why was the National Urban League, an organization created to serve urban African Americans, working on environmental issues in the late 1970s? The answer was simple, league official William Haskins told members of the National League of Cities in 1978. “The truth of the matter is that black folks and other inner city minorities are really the uncounted environmentalists. We’re the uncounted environmentalists because we’ve been...

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Chapter 1 - The Breakdown of the City

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pp. 11-37

In 1925, at the peak of the Jazz Age, many would have said that the prospects for America’s great cities were limitless. But for Clarence Stein, the outlook for New York, and urban America in general, was bleak. “To the few the great city gives all: to the millions it annually leaves less and less. In spite of sanitary codes, tenement house laws, and various other urban reforms, the prospects for decent human living have become distinctly worse in New York during the last...

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Chapter 2 - “Black Survival in Our Polluted Cities” : St. Louis and the Fight against Lead Poisoning

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pp. 38-72

Charles Liebert did not come into his office on August 11, 1970. He did not want to face one of his tenants, Carrie McCain. With her daughter and a small group of activists, McCain was staging a sit-in at Liebert Realty to protest the continued lead poisoning of her granddaughter. Dorothy Nason had been treated twice for lead poisoning over the past six months, and now McCain refused to pay rent to Liebert until he fixed the problem. She was there...

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Chapter 3 - “We Must Destroy You to Save You” : Baltimore’s Freeway Revolt

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pp. 73-103

In August 1969, hearings on a proposed highway bypass gathered people from all over metropolitan Baltimore. For three nights, black and white, urban and suburban, working and middle class all voiced their opposition to the city’s highway system. “The threat of the road was acting like a zipper, pulling white and Black together,” one witness said. Another angry woman told state officials, “You did one good thing. You brought black and white together, and this...

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Chapter 4 - The Knee-in-the-Groin Approach: The Citizen’s Action Program and Environmental Protest in Chicago

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pp. 104-136

“What kind of priest are you?” Mayor Richard Daley barked at Len Dubi, before leaving a 1972 press conference.
The issue that day was bonds to fund a new stadium for the Chicago Bears. But it could have been tax assessments, an urban highway, or air pollution. And instead of Mayor Daley, it could have been an alderman, the county assessor, or a U.S. Steel executive. No matter the issue, no matter the person...

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Chapter 5 - “City Dwellers Are in the Greatest Danger” : Urban Environmentalism in the 1970s

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pp. 137-166

The first Earth Day was America’s largest-ever one-day protest. In cities and towns across the country, twenty million people turned out to show their concern for health of the planet. In St. Louis, however, the theme of the Metropolitan Black Survival Committee’s presentation was not how humans were harming the earth, but how pollution and other environmental problems were harming the black poor. The committee, organized by Wilbur...

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Conclusion - Missed Opportunities

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pp. 167-174

In May 2007, actor Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair for the magazine’s second annual “green” issue. The image shows DiCaprio in cold-weather gear on the remains of a melting glacier in Iceland. Next to him is an adorable polar bear cub, looking up longingly at the rugged heartthrob. The photo was obviously staged; the cub, Knut, was not even in the same time...

Appendix: Archival Abbreviations

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pp. 175-176


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pp. 177-206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9781439904671
E-ISBN-10: 1439904677
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439904657
Print-ISBN-10: 1439904650

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 879551288
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Environmental Activism and the Urban Crisis

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Sustainable urban development -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Sociology, Urban -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Urban ecology (Sociology) -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Environmentalism -- United States -- Case studies.
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