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  • Front Porch
  • Marcie Cohen Ferris

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Weeping cherry tree, Lake Eden, Black Mountain, North Carolina, 2016. Photograph by Lisa McCarty.

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welcome to this special Human/Nature issue of Southern Cultures. We are honored to have historian Andy Horowitz as our guest editor, on the heels of his brilliant new book Katrina: A History, 1915–2015, published in 2020. In it, Andy details the destructive forces that led to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, notably, that Katrina was not just a natural disaster but also a human disaster shaped by decades of flawed policy, racism, and corporate-led environmental degradation, forces that also continue to shape the current covid-19 pandemic.

In this issue, the essayists take us to spaces where southerners and nature have interacted in both historic and evolving narratives, from the coasts of Hilton Head Island in South Carolina to the bayous of Louisiana. They examine the politics, battles, achievements, and losses, as well as the icons, symbols, and representations of specific environmental moments in the American South. I am struck by the deeply physical and emotional engagement with landscape that these scholars, writers, and artists reveal.

Jeffery U. Darensbourg resuscitates ancestral memories of bison hunting by the Ishak Indians connected to the soil of the Louisiana prairie. Across this same land, Jeremiah Ariaz explores the Black equestrian tradition of Louisiana Trail Riders in Southwest Louisiana, and how those gatherings evolved to embrace Black Lives Matter protest and resistance. Justin Hosbey and J. T. Roane reflect on the Black ecologies of the "untamed" waterscapes surrounding New Orleans and the Tidewater, where historic maroon communities gathered in resistance and solidarity. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore helps us to see lost landscapes of Black female creativity, artistry, and skill—the beautiful and useful urban vegetable and flower gardens that were once a common sight in Charlotte before campaigns of white supremacy, and, later, the racism undergirding urban renewal and economic development projects that displaced thousands of Black families in the early twentieth century. Romare Bearden shows us these worlds through a series of stunning memory paintings of the gardens of Maudell Sleet, a neighbor who lived near his great-grandparents' home. In another urban landscape—of backyard gardens, cemetery mulberry trees, insects and invertebrates, and the chirping of neighborhood birds—Lisa Sorg walks us through her particular southern microcosm that provided healing and companionship throughout the isolating and difficult months of 2020.

The injustice of Black economic underdevelopment and environmental racism are at the center of Madison W. Cates's exploration of the struggle between a West German petrochemical company and the (perhaps) unlikely alliance of the local Black Gullah Geechee community and white residents of the gated community of Hilton Head Island in the late '60s and early '70s. Joshua B. Guild discusses a long Black radical tradition within the history of environmentalism—and environmentalism's place in the history of Black radicalism—in his profile of New Orleanian Malik Rahim. A former Black Panther and Green Party candidate, Rahim's activism [End Page 2] focuses on the catastrophic impact of Louisiana's oil industry–generated environmental pollution on urban Black communities, from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in 2010.

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Knot, Lake Eden, Black Mountain, North Carolina, 2017. Photograph by Lisa McCarty.

In Will Warasila's photography of Walnut Cove, North Carolina—where land, water, and residents were forever changed by Duke Energy's storage of twelve million tons of coal ash—the [End Page 3] devastating realities of chemical pollution, contaminating groundwater and soil, is visceral. Anne Branigin's accompanying essay describes the "slow violence" and "slow death" that pollutants like coal ash cause. They "extract life, resources, and wealth" from underresourced, low-income communities—disproportionately communities of color—who experience high cancer rates and neurological issues as a result of this environmental pollution. Anna Zeide shares the compelling story of her father Boris Zeide, a Soviet Jewish refugee, a scholar of the science of forestry, and an expert on Aldo Leopold, who taught at the University of Arkansas's forestry school. Anna Zeide, now a professor...