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On Earth Day, Rush Champions Legislation To Honor Legacy of Hazel M. Johnson, Mother of Environmental Justice Movement and Activist from Chicago's South Side

April 22, 2021

WASHINGTON — This Earth Day, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) joined Robert D. Bullard, Co-chair of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, and Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director of People for Community Recovery, to champion legislation he introduced to commemorate the life and legacy of Hazel M. Johnson, an activist from the South Side of Chicago who is widely recognized as the "Mother of Environmental Justice."

Johnson's environmental activism grew out of her work to address environmental racism in Altgeld Gardens and Phillip Murray Homes in Chicago and led her to found People for Community Recovery in 1979. Her tireless work on the local and national stage earned her national recognition and helped bring about the historic signing of the first executive order on environmental justice in 1994.

"Hazel M. Johnson fought tirelessly for the environmental rights of people in her South Side community, and her work galvanized minorities and low-income groups across the nation to seek equal environmental protections and correct environmental and social injustices on behalf their communities," said Rush. "So often, Black activists are overlooked for their contributions to the environmental and environmental justice movements. Ms. Johnson was a visionary who used her voice to shine a bright light on the environmental injustices suffered by low-income, minority communities. I'm proud to sponsor three pieces of legislation to honor her trailblazing legacy."

Dr. Robert D. Bullard, the Co-chair of the National Black Environmental Justice Network, who is widely acknowledged to be the father of environmental justice movement, said: "It is fitting and timely that Congress and the nation honor Hazel Johnson in recognition for her decades of tireless work on the frontline and her dedication in the cause of environmental justice. I strongly support the legislation Congressman Rush has sponsored celebrating the life and impactful work of this American shero."

Cheryl Johnson, the Executive Director of People for Community Recovery and the daughter of the late Hazel M. Johnson, said: "It is an honor and a privilege to be able to support this legislation that recognizes the cause of environmental justice that my mother worked so tirelessly toward. My mother's legacy lives on in communities across the country as people rise up against environmental racism to ensure the next generation is able to breathe clean air, drink clean water and live on safe, healthy land regardless of where their neighborhood is located, the color of their skin, or their level of income."

Rush has introduced three pieces of legislation to commemorate the life and legacy of Hazel M. Johnson:

  • H.R. 674, the Hazel M. Johnson Congressional Gold Medal Act, would posthumously present Ms. Johnson with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her achievements and contributions to the environmental justice movement.
  • H. Res.79 would designate the month of April each year as Hazel M. Johnson Environmental Justice Month.
  • H.R. 673, the Hazel M. Johnson Memorial Stamp Act, would direct the Postmaster General to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Ms. Johnson.

Hazel M. Johnson's tireless advocacy for environmental justice helped bring lifesaving protections to those who suffered from environmental injustice. Her activism successfully pressured the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from the Altgeld Gardens Homes and install water and sewer lines in the Maryland Manor neighborhood.

In 1992, Johnson was given the President's Environment and Conservation Challenge award by President George H.W. Bush in recognition of her environmental justice work. Her advocacy was also instrumental in President Clinton's signing of Executive Order 12898 (Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations) in 1994, which required federal agencies to identify and address the disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies and activities on minority and low-income populations.

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