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Robert Bullard

Environmental activist and sociologist Robert Bullard was born on December 21, 1946, in Elba, Alabama, to Myrtle and Nehemiah Bullard. He was the fourth of five children. Growing up in Alabama during the 1950s, Bullard experienced the effects of a segregated community. After graduating from high school, Bullard went on to attend the Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University. He received his B.A. degree in history and government with a minor in sociology in 1968. He continued his education at Atlanta University, where he earned his M.S. degree in sociology in 1972. During his graduate studies, Bullard started his work in urban planning and went on to complete his Ph.D. program at Iowa State University in 1976.

After receiving his Ph.D. degree, Bullard moved to Texas to teach at Texas Southern University. It was in Texas that Bullard met his future wife, Linda McKeever. In 1978, Bullard was asked by Linda to collect data for a lawsuit, Bean v. Southwestern Waste Corporation she had filed in federal court involving the placement of garbage facilities in mostly black Houston neighborhoods. This was the first lawsuit that charged environmental discrimination using federal civil rights laws. This inspired Bullard to learn more about careers in the environmental field. After Texas, Bullard taught at universities in Tennessee and California before returning to his alma-mater, Clark Atlanta University, where he was named the Edmund Asa Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. In this position, Bullard was able to do research and actively pursue the issue of environmental justice.

Bullard has been a pioneer in the field of environmental justice. Among his many accomplishments, Bullard helped to organize the 1991 National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, the first meeting of its kind where various minority groups could discuss the problems associated with environmental justice. Just a few years later, he was instrumental in President Clinton’s signing of Executive Order 12898, the first legal document that defined the need for environmental justice in the United States. For his continued research on contemporary cases of environmental justice and his active presence in the community, Bullard has been called the “Father of Environmental Justice.” Bullard has delivered many presentations and he has written over fifteen books detailing his research and perspectives on environmental policy. A selection of his works include: Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality, Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots and Race, Place, and Environmental Justice after Hurricane Katrina.

Among the many awards that Bullard has received is the American Sociological Association's William Foote Whyte Distinguished Career Award in 2007. He was also named one of Newsweek’s thirteen “Environmental Leaders of the Century,” in 2008.

Robert Bullard was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 12, 2011.

Accession Number

A2011.020

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/12/2011

Last Name

Bullard

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Middle Name

D

Schools

Alabama A&M University

Clark Atlanta University

Iowa State University

Mulberry Heights Elementary School

Mulberry Heights High School

Archival Photo 2
First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Elba

HM ID

BUL02

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

And justice for all.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

12/21/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Environmental activist and sociologist Robert Bullard (1946 - ) became director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark-Atlanta University in 1994. He is often considered the “Father of Environmental Justice."

Employment

United States Marine Corps

City of Des Moines

Texas Southern University

University of California, Riverside

Clark Atlanta University

Environmental Justice Resource Center

Favorite Color

Green

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Robert Bullard's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard shares his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard talks about his mother's family history

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard recalls his mother's childhood neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard talks about his mother's education and her career aspirations

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard discusses his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard talks about his family's land in Elba, Alabama, part 1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard talks about his family's land in Elba, Alabama, part 2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Robert Bullard talks about his family's land in Elba, Alabama, part 3

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Robert Bullard discusses his father's family background and career aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard talks about his parents and siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard describes his childhood in Elba, Alabama

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard describes the sense of ownership in Elba, Alabama, his childhood community

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard describes his elementary school and high school

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard talks about his favorite school teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard talks about his childhood activities and interests

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard remembers his father's interest in the news

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard shares his perspective on the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard discusses the conditions of his segregated high school

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard describes his black high school teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard remembers his high school principal

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard recalls his high school extracurricular activities

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard recalls his high school aspirations

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard describes his decision to attend Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard recalls his experiences at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard relates the lack of involvement of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Robert Bullard remembers the Black Power Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard describes the reaction of students at Alabama A&M University to the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard talks about being drafted into the United States Marine Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard talks about serving in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard discusses his decision to pursue graduate studies at Atlanta University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard recalls what drew him to Atlanta, Georgia

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard talks about his mentors at Atlanta University

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard reflects on the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois in sociology

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard discusses his decision to study sociology at Iowa State University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard discusses his graduate dissertation at the University of Iowa

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard describes his career at Texas Southern University

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard talks about his book, "Invisible Houston"

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard discusses the black communities of Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard talks about landfills in black neighborhoods in Houston, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard talks about landfills in black neighborhoods in Houston, part 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard explains the relevance of his work in both civil rights and environmental protection

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard discusses the impact of his work in Houston, Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard discusses his teaching positions at the University of California

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard talks about his book, "Dumping in Dixie"

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard discusses the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard describes the environmental justice movement

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard talks about environmental justice and the black community

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard discusses the need to fight cases of environmental injustice

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Robert Bullard discuses the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Robert Bullard talks about creating the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark-Atlanta University

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Robert Bullard emphasizes the connection between health and the environment

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Robert Bullard describes working with other environmental groups

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Robert Bullard compares the effects of different political administrations on environmental justice

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Robert Bullard shares his plans for his future

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Robert Bullard reflects on his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Robert Bullard discusses the status of his family members

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Robert Bullard describes how he would like to be remembered

MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch

Environmental activist and opera singer MaVynne “Beach Lady” Betsch was born on January 13, 1935 in Jacksonville, Florida. She was raised in one of the most preeminent black families in the South. Betsch is the daughter of Mary and John Betsch, and the great-granddaughter Abraham Lincoln Lewis, who founded Florida’s oldest African-American beach, and Anne Kingsley, the African American wife of plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley. Betsch was educated at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio. Upon completion of her bachelors’ degree in 1955, she moved to Europe where she was an opera singer for ten years.

Since 1975, Betsch made it her full-time mission to preserve and protect American Beach, her great-grandfather’s investment, from development and destruction. She was famously named “Beach Lady,” for her many efforts and dedication to the beach and its inhabitants. ‘Beach Lady’ gave her life savings, some $750,000, to sixty environmental organizations and causes, ten of which she was a lifetime member, and most of them involved animals. ‘Beach Lady’ was featured on CBS and CNN and in such publications as Coastal Living, Essence, Southern Living, Smithsonian and over twenty-five others. Betsch also dedicated part of her life in convincing others that nature and natural things are fine. ‘Beach Lady’ had natural hair that was grown for over twenty years and measured over seven feet long in some areas; she also had one foot long finger nails on one of her hands, trying to prove that things can grow naturally without protein from meat.

Even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2002, which caused the removal of her stomach, ‘Beach Lady’ continued working hard for causes that benefitted others. She developed plans for the American Beach Museum, opened in 2014, which contains the history of American Beach, the town where she lived many of the years of her life. Betsch never married and never had children. She was the older sister of Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, the first female African American president of Spelman College, and president of Bennett College.

Betsch passed away on September 5, 2005 at age 70.

Accession Number

A2004.168

Sex

Female

Interview Date

9/20/2004

Last Name

Betsch

Maker Category
Schools

Boylan-Haven School

Oberlin College

Edward Waters College

Benjamin Banneker Academic High School

First Name

MaVynee

Birth City, State, Country

Jacksonville

HM ID

BET02

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

Desert

Favorite Quote

Live Simply So That Others May Simply Live.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Florida

Birth Date

1/13/1935

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

American Beach

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Bread (Raisin), Garlic, Olives

Death Date

9/5/2005

Short Description

Environmental activist and opera singer MaVynne “Beach Lady” Betsch (1935 - 2005 ) was known for her full time efforts to preserve to preserve the history and ecology of American Beach, Florida, the oldest African American beach and her great-grandfather’s legacy.

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch's interview, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch's interview, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch traces her maternal ancestry to Anna and Zephaniah Kingsley in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her paternal German ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls her great-grandfather's summer Sunday ritual of church service followed by a family outing to American Beach

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch details her schooling at Boylan-Haven School in Jacksonville, Florida and Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch makes numerological predictions about the coming year, 2005, based on her beloved great-grandfather's date of birth, 1865

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch lists her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her family's home at 8th Street and Jefferson Street in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her sister's violin tutor in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her childhood community in Sugar Hill, Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood in Jacksonville and American Beach, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes what it was like to grow up in a wealthy African American family during a time of segregation

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains her great-grandfather's vision for a truly democratic community at American Beach, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her studies and influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her childhood aspirations and influences in Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls how her childhood aspirations evolved

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch remembers her audition for 'Salome' in Germany

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her costume and the set during the Dance of the Seven Veils in the opera 'Salome'

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains that the end of her opera career was the beginning of her mission to save American Beach from white developers

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the rich African American history of Jacksonville and American Beach, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch tells stories from the African American history of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the environmental and cultural causes to which she has dedicated her family's wealth

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the importance of history, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch recalls meeting famous jazz musicians while living in Europe in the late 1950s and early 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains the significance of her clothing and adornments

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about discovering nature upon her move to Ribault Scenic Drive in Jacksonville, Florida in the 1970s

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains the links between environmental activism and racial justice

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her plans to travel and advocate for environmental justice

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her life

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the value of helping the community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the importance of history, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch explains her great-grandfather's philosophy of money and his prominence in the black community of Jacksonville, Florida

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about the current state of American Beach, Florida

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her experiences of living in both black and white communities in the United States and Europe

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch talks about her experiences as an opera student in Europe

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch narrates her photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch narrates her photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$4

DAStory

4$9

DATitle
MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch describes her mother's family background
MaVynee "Beach Lady" Betsch reflects upon her legacy
Transcript
Next we'll be exploring your family background.$$Okay.$$Could you please tell me about your mother? What was her name? Where was she born?$$Um-hm. My mother was Mary Frances Lewis Betsch. She was, of course, granddaughter of A.L. Lewis [Abraham Lincoln Lewis]. She was born in Jacksonville [Florida]. And, she attended Wilberforce University [Wilberforce, Ohio]. And, at the time of her death, she was vice president of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company [Jacksonville, Florida]. The insurance company my great-grandfather helped to found in Jacksonville.$$So, did she grow up her entire childhood--$$(Simultaneous) Um-hm. In Jacksonville, right there.$$--(simultaneous) adolescent, in Jacksonville, Florida? What do you know about her growing up?$$Oh, she was apparently very happy. There were only two children. I have--had an uncle. He was Florida's first corporate black lawyer. And, my mother married my dad, John Betsch, who at the time was working up here in Atlanta [Georgia] at Atlanta Life [Insurance Company; Atlanta Life Financial Group, Atlanta, Georgia]. 'Cause don't forget, now--oh, child please, you talking about insurance companies, I mean they were the economic base for the entire black community in United States. There was an Afro in Florida, Afro Life Insurance Company; Atlanta Life in Georgia; North Carolina Mutual [Life Insurance Company, Durham, North Carolina]. They use to call themselves the golden triangle, okay. It was [Alonzo] Herndon in Atlanta, [Charles Clinton] Spaulding in South Carolina [sic. North Carolina], my great-grandfather in Florida. There was Supreme Life [Insurance Company of America] in Chicago [Illinois], Golden Gate [sic. Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company] in [Los Angeles] California. Child, please; we did it all. You couldn't walk into a white bank and get money, are you crazy? We talking about the 1900s, okay. So, mother and daddy were part of that whole community support system, economically for the whole South. And, I grew up with that, and mother was very happy as from what I hear for her childhood. And, she was a musician. She played the organ at the church, oh child. Gorgeous woman, oh, wait 'til you see the pictures; she was gorgeous. She had, you know, most women have the, the sort of like the, what would call it, like a V shape of the hips, mother had the double hip, like the guitar or the violin, oh child please; gorgeous, gorgeous (laughter).$$How would you describe her personality? Who she was?$$She was kind of reserved, like my sister. We make such a study of contrast. My sister by the way is Dr. Johnnetta [B.] Cole, former president of Spelman [College, Atlanta, Georgia], now president of Bennett [College, Greensboro, North Carolina]. Johnnetta is very sophisticated. I'm more of the free spirit type and she--I mean, look at this. I mean, who else would walk around looking like this but somebody who's, who's independent in thought and in the way I live? I'm like my dad. Dad was like that. He was kind of fun, fun. I guess that's why I never married. Because I thought, now you know, I don't need somebody with problems and boring me to tears. Daddy was so much fun. Mother was very cool, very sophisticated, okay. So, she--we have the study of contrast.$$Did she share any stories with you related to her growing up?$$Only in the sense of what it was like. Don't forget now, we're talking about--she was born in 1906. This is the height of really bad segregated times in Florida. And, there was always the fear of the [Ku Klux] Klan [KKK]. Jacksonville was, as you know, right there on the border with Georgia. So, everyone always thinks Florida as being a liberal state. But, we--I guess, because of our proximity to Georgia, we had a lot of the more conservative--and it still is--elements. So, but, where we lived was called Sugar Hill [Jacksonville, Florida]. My grandfather--great-grandfather gave that house, his house, to my mother. And, it was the section to live in Jacksonville, where the, quote, upper class blacks lived. Don't forget now, in black society, it was the undertaker, the preacher, the insurance man, the hairdresser, and the teacher. We were the economic base for the whole South. I mean, these were people you knew had good jobs. These are the people who helped others. So, our house was always like Grand Central Station [Grand Central Terminal, New York, New York], oh, child please. I mean, children coming in. I mean, daddy, the insurance company, all the men coming in from the different branches staying at our house. There were always parties. My great-grandfather's house had twenty-two rooms. It was the showplace. We now know--unfortunately, tore it down. But, it would have--it was financed by blacks. Built by blacks. It would have been probably the oldest of that type in the State of Florida; gorgeous.$(Simultaneous) What do you want your legacy to be?$$Well, I saved that sand dune at NaNa [American Beach, Florida]. That's so important, darling. It's symbolic of so much that's special about American Beach [Florida]. As children, I remember we used to hide--they had a riot down there. The name of the sheriff during segregated time was [Henry J.] Youngblood.$$When was the riot?$$This was like in the '40s [1940s].$$Okay.$$It was awesome. And, we would hide behind--see don't forget now, this sand dune is sixty feet tall, and we would hide back there. And, the quiet--see, Jodi [Merriday]--people have so little place to go now where it's quiet. Sometimes when I walk on the beach and I see a fisherman out there, you know what I say to 'em? I say, "Did you catch any fish?" He say, "No. But, you know what? It's like all my troubles went out with that last tide." Isn't that beautiful?$$Um-hm.$$That you can actually go somewhere. I mean, everything, it's so many--well, first of all, it's too many of us. What are we now, 6.5 billion? And, first we tried group therapy with psych--and now the thing is, now people, for people to turn in to find their inner peace. But, where can you go to find inner peace, where everything is so crowded? And, the beach is one place. Come to American Beach; come--the dune, you can go sit up on the dune and just look out there on that ocean. And, it's like nothing else matters now. All your troubles is gonna go out. Tomorrow will come. Don't worry about it. There's a kind of peace that drugs can't give you, alcohol, nothing else. And, this is something you can get by turning in for quiet, fact is, so. If I've helped to save that, that will be the best legacy I can imagine.