The Father of Environmental Justice: Dr. Robert Bullard

As environmental degradation and the impacts of a rapidly changing climate become more obvious, so does the inequity of its consequences. Recognizing that communities of color experience disproportionate impacts of environmental and health hazards that result from social, political, and economic practices, the Sustainability Office, S.J. Quinney College of Law, Office for Equity and Diversity and the Tanner Center for Human Rights have invited Dr. Robert Bullard to help us better understand the ways that justice, sustainability, and human rights are inextricably linked. Ultimately, combating climate change and environmental degradation means fighting racism and seeking justice for our most vulnerable populations.

Dr. Robert Bullard has been at the vanguard of this fight for almost 50 years; in fact, he’s often called the “father” of the environmental justice movement. On January 31st from 12 – 1:30 PM at the S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom, Dr. Bullard will deliver the Environmental Racism Lecture, “Race, Place and the Politics of Pollution.” Dr. Bullard’s passion for social justice was born out of experiences in his youth. Growing up in an all-black community in small-town Alabama, he learned the importance of education and community. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he taught in a St. Louis high school, served in the Marines, and worked for the Des Moines city government. He then went to Iowa State University where he received his Ph.D. in Sociology in 1976 for research on how planning affects lower-income communities in Des Moines.

His work on environmental justice began in earnest when he took a position at Texas Southern University, a historically black school in Houston. His first book, Invisible Houston: The Black Experience in Boom and Bust explored discrimination in housing and planning among Houston’s black communities. Around the same time, he became involved with a civil lawsuit led by his then-wife, Linda McKeever Bullard, on discrimination in the placement of landfills in Houston. He found that, despite being only 25% of the city’s population, black communities hosted 82% of the city’s landfills and waste incinerators. Because of the lack of zoning laws in Houston, it became clear that discriminatory decision-making and government collusion were responsible for placing these environmentally hazardous facilities in communities of color.

Dr. Bullard taught at universities across the country, including the University of Tennessee, UC Berkeley and UC Riverside, before landing back at his Master’s degree alma mater in 1994, Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, where he established the Environmental Justice Resource Center. He accepted a position as the dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University (TSU) in 2011 where he served until 2016. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at TSU.

As a leading authority on environmental justice, he has been tapped by leaders across the globe for his expertise. In 1992, Dr. Bullard was a part of President Bill Clinton’s transition team as he took office, and participated in the signing of the environmental justice executive order in 1994. He was a key player in the coalition that organized the milestone First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 2002, which brought together environmental justice leaders from around the United States for the first time.

Through his vigilant research, organizing, and activism Dr. Bullard has become a legendary figure in the environmental justice movement. Join us on January 31st, from 12 to 1:30 PM at the S.J. Quinney College of Law Moot Courtroom, for Dr. Bullard’s lecture, “Race, Place and the Politics of Pollution.”


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