On All Saints’ Day, Nov. 1, religious leaders from multiple denominations gathered in a sugar cane field in St. James Parish where evidence suggests enslaved African Americans were buried. In 2018, archaeological consultants for Formosa, a company that plans to build a giant plastics manufacturing facility on the site, discovered unmarked gravesites.
Bishop Michael Duca of the Diocese of Baton Rouge said he attended the ceremony to bless the graves and to make residents who have protested the proposed plant feel heard. “Caring for the Earth is about caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said. “You’re not just building on so many acres of sugar cane. This is their home.”
Clergy members have played strategic roles in bringing conviction and community to environmental justice causes since the 1980s, informing people about the disproportionate effects pollution has on communities of color and rural areas. This year in Louisiana, places of worship have served as physical and theoretical places for people of diverse backgrounds to meet and strategize to achieve recent environmental victories.
On Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permit for the proposed plastics plant while the Corps reevaluates certain aspects of the permit. Residents and environmentalists challenged the Clean Water Act permit on several counts, including the Corps’ failure to protect the burial sites. While the origins of the gravesites have not been verified, archaeologists found evidence that they may be the graves of enslaved African Americans who labored on the Buena Vista Plantation.
Pastor Harry Joseph, of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church in St. James Parish, attended parish council meetings to question the permits after one of his parishioners was diagnosed with cancer. “My people were suffering from this,” he said. “So, I needed to get more involved.”
Read the full article about clergy members in environmental victories by Carly Berlin and Sara Sneath at YES! Magazine.
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