Black Environmentalism Through the Ages

Black Environmentalism Through the Ages

This Black History Month, Refillism wanted to honor just a few of the many black environmentalists, zoologists, and politicians that have been a fundamental part of shaping historical environmentalism. If you came here from the QR code on our window display, welcome! The list below starts with our present-day environmentalists and works back through history. Refillism extends a huge thank you to these people who have deeply influenced our world for the better.

  1. Alexis Nikole Nelson The Black Forager

Known as @blackforager on social media, Alexis encourages everyone to forage for food and care for native plants in the US. Her work as an environmental educator helps people connect with nature in a new and hands-on way. Check out her social media accounts to find out how you too can safely and ethically forage for food in the woods surrounding your town! Alexis will walk you through what edible plants and fungi look like, and how you might cook them up.

  1. Jerome Foster II White House Advisor

The youngest White House advisor in U.S. history, Jerome joined President Biden’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council at age 18. As an environmental activist, he is known for his work with Fridays for Future, where he organizes climate marches for students. In the past, Jerome has started a climate news website as well as an initiative that encourages young adults to vote. His work empowers the youth of America, showing them that they can make a difference in the climate crisis, and their voices do matter.

  1. Rue Mapp CEO of Outdoor Afro

She started a blog in 2009 hoping to help black youth in America to engage with nature, and from that Outdoor Afro was born. Rue continues to also pursue her passion for design, having co-created a hiking apparel line through REI Co-op. If you're interested in participating in some of Outdoor Afro's programs, they have volunteers all across the U.S. Activities involve everything from hiking, swimming lessons, and kayaking to gardening, birding, and skiing.

  1. Wangari Maathai Kenyan Politician & Activist

Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement in Kenya to slow the desertification that was drying vital water sources and causing food scarcity. As of right now, her organization has planted 51 million trees. After acting as Kenya’s Assistant Minister to the Environment, Natural Resources, and Wildlife, she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Her work was recognized as uniquely helping the environment while also supporting women's rights.

  1. Hattie Carthan Brooklyn’s 'Tree Lady'

At 64, Hattie organized the planting of 1,500 trees to help revitalize her redlined community in Brooklyn. Her trees can still be see blessing the community today, and her work is carried on through the Hattie Carthan Community Garden Farm. She also saved a magnolia tree planted in 1855 from being brought down with the buildings around it. Because of her, it was declared to be one of the two living monuments in NYC.

  1. Lancelot Jones Landowner & Wildlife Enthusiast

Lancelot refused to sell his land in the Florida Keys to commercial developers and companies seeking to drill for oil, instead selling to support the creation of Biscayne National Park. During his life he transitioned from using the land as a lime plantation to giving fishing tours full time. His tours gained immense popularity, a variety of people seeking Jones out, including multiple presidents. Later in life, he also made a point to teach local children about marine ecology.

  1. Roger Young Zoologist

Roger was the first black woman to earn a PhD in zoology and publish research in the field. Her research was on Paramecium and sea urchins! Before even completing her doctorate degree, she worked as interim head of the zoology department at the University of Chicago. She persevered through her years in the biological field, facing many who were unhappy with her involvement in the civil rights movement. Dr. Young's passion for social justice and education in the biological field paved the way for so many that followed in her footsteps.

  1. Robert Bullard “Father of Environmental Justice”

He was the first to research and prove the higher levels of pollution in black and brown neighborhoods was caused by redlining. At the time of his first study, Dr. Bullard says in an interview with Scientific American he "found that five out of of [Houston's] landfills were in predominantly black neighborhoods." To begin fighting this injustice rooted in racism, he organized the National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991. He continues working to make newer eco-changes like clean energy that is fair and accessible to all.

  1. Colonel Charles Young National Park Superintendent

After becoming the first black National Park Superintendent, the colonel and his troops protected Sequoia National Park. During his time there, he worked to prevent poaching, and made the park accessible to the general public. His team, known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," built a road through the park that brought in thousands of visitors. He also negotiated with land owners still living in the park, peacefully expanding park territory and acquiring acres of forest that people continue to enjoy generations later.

And So Many More…

There are so many more figures we haven’t mentioned! Above our main window display we have a few more influential people pictured that we wanted to recognize but ran out of room to do so. If you’d like to read more about them, here are some resources.

10. Rae Wynn Grant - Ecologist

11. Mikaela Loach - Climate Justice Activist

12. Turkiya Lowe - First Woman Chief Historian for the National Park Service

13. Anya Elizabeth Johnson - Marine Biologist

14. Lisa P. Jackson - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator

15. Robert G. Stanton - First Black Director of a National Park Service

16, Mary J. Wilson - Senior Zookeeper


About Outdoor Afro. Outdoor Afro.

Rue Mapp. Rue Mapp.

Wangari Maathi: Kenyan Educator and Government Official. Britannica.

Who We Are. The Green Belt Movement.

E, Karuna. Sir Lancelot Jones: The black farmer who inspired a US park. BBC.

M, Leila. How a brilliant biologist was failed by science. BBC.

M, Oliver. Robert Bullard: ‘Environmental justice isn’t just slang, it’s real.’ The Guardian.

Brigadier General Charles Young, Early Park Superintendent. National Park Service.

G, Joelle and Eileen Finan. Meet Jerome Foster II, Teen Climate Hero and Greta Thunberg’s Friend: Saving the Planet Is ‘Up to Us.’ Human Interest.

Jerome Foster II, the Youngest Ever White House Advisor, Discusses Climate Justice. PBS.

Hattie Carthan: Also known as The Tree Lady of Brooklyn. The New York Preservation Archive Project.

Save a Tree, Save a Neighborhood: Hattie Carthan, Brooklyn’s ‘Tree Lady.’ Be Outdoors: Appalachian MTN Club.

S, Georgia Silvera. An African American Tree Activist Lived in Brooklyn. Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Jerome Foster: The Next Generation Leading the Way. LCV.


Wangari Maathai photo: By Kingkongphoto &amp

Robert Bullard photo: Courtesy of Texas Southern University

Alexis Nikole Nelson photo: By Rachel Joy Barehl; Courtesy of

Jerome Foster II photo: By Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

Colonel Charles Young photo: By W. Allison Sweeney

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