The Incidence of Environmental Waste and Hazards in Mobile (County), Alabama: 
The Case of AfricaTown USA
Lorna Woods is a direct descendent of AfricaTown founder Cudjoe Lewis. 1998. Mobile Register. Mike Kittrell. 


Cochrane-AfricaTown USA Bridge. Mobile Register. Dave Hamby 
Jasmine McClinton at AfricaTown Community Day. 1999. Mobile Register. John David Mercer. 
Downtown Mobile, Alabama, looking south from the Cochrane-AfricaTown USA Bridge. 1999. Mobile Register. Mike Kittrell.
Environmental Justice refers to those cultural norms, values, rules, regulations, behaviors, policies and decisions that support sustainable communities where people can live with confidence that their environment is safe, nurturing and productive. 
Bunyan Bryant
INTRODUCTION: The state of Alabama is no stranger to major environmental concerns, especially over the past several decades. Sumter County, for example, houses one of the largest hazardous-waste treatment, disposal and storage facilities in the United States. It has been cited, fined and temporarily closed over the years for not operating within regulation. Further south, in the southwest corner of the state, is Mobile County, bordered by the state of Mississippi on the west, Washington County on the north, Baldwin County and Mobile Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the south. Because of its location, this port community has been able to attract large numbers of business and industry, but not without triggering air, water and groundlevel pollution.

This Environmental Justice mapping project will take a closer look at the environmental concerns facing Mobile County, focusing on the small, mostly African-American community of AfricaTown USA. Environmental Justice concerns arise when there is evidence of citizens being disproportionately affected by their environment. In most cases, these citizens are predominately minority, poor and have completed lower levels of education than their surrounding neighbors. AfricaTown is unique because it puts to rest arguments centering around which came first -- the mostly minority, poor population or the environmental hazards. AfricaTown was founded in 1868 and its inhabitants are believed to be the last Africans to travel by slaveship to the United States. In fact, descendents of those West Africans still live in that community. 

  This is a general map showing exactly where the state of Alabama and Mobile County are located in proximity to surrounding states. 
  This map zooms in on Mobile County, focusing on the eastern section closest to Mobile Bay. AfricaTown is marked with a brown triangle. 
  A grid was laid over a map in LandView III and the number of EPA features were calculated to make this map. The features used in this calculation were: Air Facilities; Hazardous Waste sites; Superfund Non-National Priority List (NPL) sites; Superfund NPL sites; Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) sites; and Wastewater Discharge Facilities.

Using the measurement, approximately 1 mile = 1 inch, a grid was printed out and manually marked with the numerical weights calculated, per square, by LandView III. Each square equaled the number of EPA features inside. The total number of EPA features are symbolized by a point in each polygon. This information was placed on an Excel spreadsheet with the center of each square's longitude and latitutde included. 

  This map shows how the points are connected, based on weight value (the number of EPA features it represents), creating a contour. 
  This map also displays the connected points, creating a contour. But now filled in, you can see a range of colors. The darker the red, the more EPA features are included in that particular area. Note the proximity of the reds to AfricaTown. 
  This map includes a "buffer" of 10 concentric circles of 1/4 mile each. The rings grow in distance from one of AfricaTown's landmarks, Union Missionary Baptist Church. 
The above maps were derived from the mapping software Streets 5.0; the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software ArcView 3.2 and LandView III, made available by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). LandView III includes recent data from the EPA, the Bureau of the Census, the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
CONCLUSION: Based on the mapping analysis presented and Census date collected, the evidence presented in these maps shows most of the Mobile County residents living closest to Mobile Bay, which is adjacent to AfricaTown, are African Americans. The data also reveals, most of the environmental waste and major hazards travel along that waterway, which is in very close proximity to AfricaTown. 

Many Environmental Justice reports and studies have revealed conflicting results as to whether communities, especially in the southern region of the U.S., are directly targeted with environmental waste because of its large, poor, minority population. Many question if large corporations target these areas because of its demographics, or if the so-called targeted population moved to a given area, after the hazards were already present. In the case of AfricaTown, there is little argument over who was first. AfricaTown was founded over 130 years ago, with descendents of the slaves who traveled from West Africa still residing near the Bay.


Please refer all comments to Leoneda Inge-Barry, 

This mapping exercise was developed as a class project in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prof. Sandra L. Arlinghaus,, served as instructor.

©copyright 1999