Farmers, Activists, & Public Officials: 5 Black Conservationists

From archivists of the traditional uses of native plants to advocates for the environment in government, Black and African Americans have contributed to the conservation movement in innumerable ways. For inspiration on how you can make a difference in your community, read about five influential individuals who made (and are currently making) our world a greener and more equitable and just place. 

Emma Dupree, Herbalist

“The woods gal, that’s what they called me.”

Emma Dupress, an influential herbalist of Pitt County, North Carolina, was known to many as “that little medicine thing.” Born in 1897, she shared much of her knowledge of the medicinal properties of native plants with physicians and medical anthropologists at East Carolina University’s School of Medicine. Dupree received the Brown-Hudson Award from the North Carolina Folklore Society in 1984 and the North Carolina Heritage Award in 1992. She died just shy of her 100th birthday, in 1996.

Dr. Robert Bullard, Academic & Activist

“One of the key components in environmental justice is getting people to the table to speak for themselves…they need to be in the room where policy is being made.”

Dr. Robert Bullard is known as the “father of environmental justice” in the United States for the work he did in the 1970s to highlight the burden of pollution suffered by vulnerable communities, many of which were low-income. Dr. Bullard launched an advocacy campaign after discovering that Houston’s incinerators, landfills, and toxic waste sites were disproportionately located in communities of color.

Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, Activist

“You’re never too young or too small to change the world.”

Mari was 8 years old in 2016 when she penned a letter to President Obama that would lead to the authorization of $100 million to repair Flint, Michigan’s water system. But Mari wasn’t done advocating for her community: she began a campaign that has raised $500,000 for her Dear Flint Kids Project, which encourages people from all over the world to send messages of hope to Flint’s young people. 

Now 12 years old, Mari works to make sure America knows the water crisis continues so that Flint and other communities without clean drinking water are not forgotten. 

Lisa P. Jackson, Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator 

“Environmentalism isn’t a spectator sport. You actually have to stand up and demand that we be vigilant in protecting our air and water.”

In 2009, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency: chemical engineer and long-time public servant, Lisa Jackson. Administrator Jackson was the first African American to hold the post and the fourth woman to lead the agency. Jackson now leads Apple’s Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. 

Violet King, Urban Farmer

“I got involved in the food system because I know what it’s like to be a mother and have children and to have limited access to healthy food.”

Violet King is a Washington, D.C.-based urban farmer, educator, and herbalist who has been working to bring healthier food options and farming, gardening, and nutrition education to area youth and adults for the past five years. Some areas of the nation’s capital are food deserts: communities in which it is difficult to access affordable or good-quality fresh food.

Her work focuses on empowering D.C. residents by teaching them how to grow and prepare their own food, using sustainable and agroecological farming practices. 

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