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16 June, 2010

Cultural Extinction by Pollution

“a continuation of an old pattern of oil and chemical corporations displacing people of color from their homes. … at least five Louisiana towns, majority African-American and founded by former slaves, have been eradicated due to corporate pollution in recent decades. … After years of chemical- poisoning, the residents have been relocated and the corporations own their land.”

The southern Louisiana towns of Diamond, Morrisonville, Sunrise and Revilletown - all founded by former slaves - met similar fates. After years of chemical-related poisoning, the remaining residents have been relocated and the corporations that drove them out now own their land. In most cases, only a cemetery remains and former residents must pass through plant security to visit their relatives' graves.

The town of Diamond, founded by the descendents of the participants of the 1811 Rebellion to End Slavery, the largest slave uprising in US history, was relocated by Shell in 2002, after residents had faced decades of toxic exposure. Morrisonville, established by free Africans in 1790, was bought out by Dow in 1989. Residents of Sunrise, inaugurated near Baton Rouge by former slaves in 1874, were paid to move as the result of a lawsuit against the Placid Refining Company. In the mid-1990s, chemical producer Georgia Gulf Corporation poisoned and then acquired Revilletown, a town free Africans had started in the years after the civil war.

"We make the mistake of thinking this is something new," says Harden. She adds that the historic treatment of these communities, as well as the lack of recovery that New Orleanians have seen since Katrina, makes her doubt the federal government will do what is necessary for Gulf recovery. "Since Obama got into office," she says, "I have yet to see any action that reverses what Bush did after Katrina."

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