Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism

Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism

by Elizabeth D. Blum
Pub. Date:
University Press of Kansas


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Love Canal Revisited: Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism

Thirty years after the headlines, Love Canal remains synonymous with toxic waste.

When this neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, burst upon the nation's consciousness, the media focused on a working-class white woman named Lois Gibbs, who gained prominence as an activist fighting to save families from the poison buried beneath their homes. Her organization, the Love Canal Homeowners Association, challenged big government and big business—and ultimately won relocation. But as Elizabeth Blum now shows, the activists at Love Canal were a very diverse lot.

Blum reveals that more lurks beneath the surface of this story than most people realize—and more than mere toxins. She takes readers behind the headlines to show that others besides Gibbs played important roles and to examine how race, class, and gender influenced the way people—from African American women to middle class white Christian groups—experienced the crisis and became active at Love Canal.

Blum explores the often-rocky interracial relationships of the community, revealing how marginalized black women fought to be heard as they defined their environmental activism as an ongoing part of the civil rights struggle. And she examines how the middle-class Ecumenical Task Force—consisting of progressive, educated whites—helped to negotiate legal obstacles and to secure the means to relocate and compensate black residents.

Blum also demonstrates how the crisis challenged gender lines far beyond casting mothers in activist roles. Women of the LCHA may have rejected feminism because of its anti-family stance, but they staunchly believed in their rights. And the incident changed the lives of working-class men, who found their wives in the front lines rather than in the kitchen. In addition, male bureaucrats and politicians ran into significant opposition from groups of both men and women who pressed for greater emphasis on health rather than economics for solutions to the crisis.

No previous account of Love Canal has considered the plight of these other segments of the population. By doing so, Blum shows that environmental activism opens a window on broader social movements and ideas, such as civil rights and feminism. Her book moves the story of Love Canal well beyond its iconic legacy—the Superfund Act that makes polluters accountable—to highlight another vital legacy, one firmly rooted in race, class, and gender.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780700615605
Publisher: University Press of Kansas
Publication date: 03/19/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 308
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Elizabeth D. Blum is an associate professor of history at Troy University.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     ix
Acknowledgments     xi
Introduction     1
Historical Snapshots of the Love Canal Area     9
Gender at Love Canal     31
Race at Love Canal     63
Class at Love Canal     86
Historical Implications of Gender, Race, and Class at Love Canal     120
Notes     151
Selected Bibliography     179
Index     187

What People are Saying About This

Allan Mazur

Shining new light on the multifaceted controversy at Love Canal, Blum provides the best account I've seen of racial friction among residents near the infamous toxic-waste dumpsite, and the often bitter in-fighting among activists. (Allan Mazur, author of A Hazardous Inquiry: The Rashomon Effect at Love Canal)

Martin Melosi

A fresh look at an important environmental turning point in American history. Blum's focus on gender, race, and class is original and absolutely necessary. (Martin Melosi, author of The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present)

Dianne D. Glave

A carefully crafted, original, and important critique. (Dianne D. Glave, coeditor of To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History)

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