On October 13 at 5 pm in Gorgas Library Room 205, Ellen Griffith Spears, assistant professor in New College and the Department of American Studies, will deliver a talk based on her book, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town. In the mid-1990s, residents of Anniston, Alabama, began a legal fight against the agrochemical company Monsanto over the dumping of toxic chemicals—PCBs—in the city’s historically African American and white working-class west side. Simultaneously, Anniston environmentalists sought to safely eliminate chemical weaponry that had been secretly stockpiled near the city during the Cold War. In her probing work, Ellen Griffith Spears offers a compelling narrative of Anniston’s battles for environmental justice, exposing how systemic racial and class inequalities reinforced during the Jim Crow era played out in these intense contemporary social movements. Spears focuses attention on key figures who shaped Anniston—from Monsanto’s founders, to white and African American activists, to the ordinary Anniston residents whose lives and health were deeply affected by the town’s military-industrial history and the legacy of racism. Baptized in PCBs situates the personal struggles and triumphs of Anniston residents within a larger national story of regulatory inaction and legal strategies that have affected toxic towns across America. Spears unflinchingly explores the causes and implications of environmental inequalities, showing how civil rights movement activism undergirded Anniston’s campaigns for redemption and justice. This book has already been awarded the 2014 Arthur J. Viseltear Prize in public health history from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association.
This event is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a reception and book sale.