a Black minister appears on a Zoom call with a blurred background to discuss environmental justice issues.
Reverend Bill Kearney discusses environmental justice with our environmental health reporter. Credit: North Carolina Health News / North Carolina Health News
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By Will Atwater

Forty years ago, Warren County kicked off a movement that would have a decades-long impact when the people there protested how their community had been the dumping ground for toxic PCBs. During the protests in this North Carolina backwater, the term “environmental justice” was coined and a movement sparked.

We discussed this topic with Reverend Bill Kearney, the associate minister and health ministry coordinator at Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church and the United Shiloh Baptist Church Association in Warren County. Kearney volunteered the morning of the first environmental justice protest, greeting people and directing volunteers.

We also spoke with Warren County resident, Angella Dunston, who was there for the first march as well as the 40-year anniversary march, where she and others walked two miles from Coley Springs Missionary Baptist Church to the former toxic waste site.

Thirdly, Jenny Labalme joined us to discuss the photographs she took of the 1982 protests, one of which has become an iconic visual symbol of environmental justice. Lebalme was a Duke University senior at the time.

NC Health News environmental health reporter, Will Atwater, moderated the panel. You can read the stories he wrote about the protests and the recent commemoration events.

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Will Atwater has spent the past decade working with educators, artists and community-based organizations as a short-form documentary and promotional video producer. A native North Carolinian, Will grew...