Polluted Promises

Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town

275 pages

16 illustrations

August, 2005

ISBN: 9780814716588



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Melissa Checker teaches in the Department of Urban Studies, Queens College/CUNY. She is co-editor of Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life. She is donating all of her proceeds from this book to the Hyde and Aragon Park Improvement Committee.

All books by Melissa Checker

Association for Humanist Sociology 2007 Book Award co-winner

Julian Steward Award 2006 Runner-Up!

Over the past two decades, environmental racism has become the rallying cry for many communities as they discover the contaminations of toxic chemicals and industrial waste in their own backyards.

Living next door to factories and industrial sites for years, the people in these communities often have record health problems and debilitating medical conditions. Melissa Checker tells the story of one such neighborhood, Hyde Park, in Augusta, Georgia, and the tenacious activism of its two hundred African American families. This community, at one time surrounded by nine polluting industries, is struggling to make their voices heard and their community safe again.

Polluted Promises shows that even in the post-civil rights era, race and class are still key factors in determining the politics of pollution.


  • “In this highly readable account . . . Checker has written a fine book. Assigned to students interested in urbanism, science and technology studies, race relations in the United States, environment, or social movements, the book is sure to spark thoughtful conversation.”

    American Anthropologist

  • “Melissa Checker's absorbing story is a portrait of America. Polluted Promises showcases the complex links between toxic waste and race, and the hope-filled journeys of environmental activists who are wise, strong, and spiritual in their fight against toxic waste—and for their lives. Checker is doing public anthropology for social justice.”

    —Carol Stack, author of All Our Kin

  • “I hope that (this book) doesn't get pidgeonholed as a dry, academic treatise, because it is anything but that. It is a wonderfully written account of the struggles by the residents of Hyde Park, a neighborhood in Augusta, Georgia, to undo decades of...environmental racism.”

    In Brief

  • “A very rich, organized, and theoretically interesting ethnographic case study of environmental activism. Checker beautifully recounts how the issues of race emerged and were manipulated in social organizing against environmental poisoning.”

    —George E. Marcus, author of Ethnography through Thick and Thin

  • Polluted Promises is a substantial accomplishment. It grounds the notion of environmental justice wonderfully in practical terms, in the theoretically sophisticated and empathetic examination of Hyde Park.”

    —Adolph Reed, Jr., author of Class Notes: Posing As Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene