Rush Introduces Legislation Honoring The “Mother Of Environmental Justice,” Hazel Johnson

Dec 6, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) introduced two pieces of legislation honoring the late Hazel M. Johnson, widely known as the “Mother of Environmental Justice.”

H.R. 5340, 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.R. 5343 would direct the Postmaster General to issue a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Ms. Johnson.

“For decades, Hazel Johnson fought for the environmental rights of the people of Chicago and beyond.  Her dogged commitment to environmental and social justice would ultimately lead to the creation of the People for Community Recovery, an organization which fights for a safer environment, and earn her the title of ‘the Mother of Environmental Justice.’

“Johnson was a visionary, who was able to foresee the impact of failing to address environmental and social justice conditions, using her voice to shine a bright light on the environmental injustices suffered by low-income, minority communities.  As such, it is my privilege to honor Hazel M. Johnson for her achievements and contributions to the environmental justice with these two pieces of legislation,” said Rep. Rush.

Johnson took on this mission after discovering that her Altgeld Gardens community was surrounded by contaminants including lead and asbestos.  Her determination was key in pressuring the Chicago Housing Authority to remove the asbestos from Altgeld Gardens and her fight for clean water led to the installation of water and sewer lines by city health officials in the far Southside neighborhood of Maryland Manor, where then existing well water was contaminated with cyanide and other toxins.

In 1992, Johnson was given the President’s Environment and Conservation Challenge award in recognition of her environmental justice work and was instrumental in pressuring then President Bill Clinton to sign the Environmental Justice Executive Order, which holds the federal government accountable for urban communities exposed to pollution.

Given that Ms. Johnson passed away in 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal would be housed at the National Museum of African American History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution, where it will be available for display and made available for research.