Baptized in PCBs:
Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town
Awards & Distinctions
2014 Arthur J. Viseltear Award, American Public Health Association Medical Care Section
2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award, Southern Environmental Law Center
In the mid-1990s, residents of Anniston, Alabama, began a legal fight against the agrochemical company Monsanto over the dumping of 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 this 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. Situating the personal struggles and triumphs of Anniston residents within a larger national story of regulatory regimes 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.
Ellen Griffith Spears is assistant professor in New College and the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama.
“A tale of civic redemption.”
“A well-written and well-documented account of the importance of environmental justice.”
“A significant and richly detailed study of environmental justice.”
--Journal of American History
"An important study in the ongoing effort to document and understand the huge legacy of environmental racism in our past. Hopefully this story will help spur us to fight against the ongoing scourge of environmental injustice in frontline communities."
--Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
"This is an excellent book--well written, exhaustively researched, original, and brilliantly conceived. Anyone interested in the history of the South, business history, civil rights, and environmental justice will find this essential reading. But more than that, this is a great story--at turns inspiring, maddening, depressing, and instructive. Everyone knows about Love Canal, Times Beach, Missouri, and Three Mile Island. Hopefully, after this book is published, everyone will know about Anniston as well!"
--Gerald Markowitz, John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York
"Baptized in PCBs is a richly textured history of Anniston, Alabama, and the movements of chemicals, capital, and people over a century that transformed it into one of the most toxic towns in the U.S. Spears offers a compelling and compassionate account of the South's hope for the chemical industry in the wake of Reconstruction and the environmental and racial inequalities that accrued over time. It is a telling tale of toxic secrets and legal challenges and the heartbreaks and triumphs that are familiar to toxic towns across America seeking redemption and justice."
--Gregg Mitman, author of Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes