Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hazel M. Johnson Dies: Mother of Environmental Justice

Hazel Johnson
Chicago South Side environmental activist Hazel M. Johnson, 75, died of complications from congestive heart failure Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. Mrs. Johnson a longtime resident of Chicago's Altgeld Gardens public housing development, was spurred into environmental activism after her husband, John, died of lung cancer in 1969.  She fought corporate polluters and rallied residents to protest contamination.

She founded a group called People for Community Recovery and put pressure on the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from Altgeld Gardens. Mrs. Johnson focused much of her organization's work on educating minority communities about urban environmental hazards. She became known as the mother of the environmental justice movement.

Mrs. Johnson was instrumental in convincing city health officials to test drinking water at Maryland Manor, a Far South Side neighborhood dependent on well water. After tests conducted in 1984 revealed cyanide and toxins in the water, officials installed water and sewer lines.

Her work in Chicago led to the national stage, where she joined a group of activists in urging President Bill Clinton to sign the Environmental Justice order. Ms. Johnson served on the U.S. EPA's first National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), established on September 30, 1993.

Mrs. Johnson was the eldest of four children born in the area of New Orleans now known as "cancer alley." Johnson would spend most of her adult life in the Calumet Region, the industrial area along Lake Michigan's southern tip that is one of the nation's most polluted areas. Mrs. Johnson was preceded in death by her son Michael. In addition to her daughter, Cheryl Johnson, Mrs. Johnson is survived by two other daughters, Yolanda Johnson and Valerie Johnson; sons John Jr., Johnny and Mark; 10 grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, January 22, 2011 in St. Ailbe Catholic Church, 9015 S. Harper Ave., Chicago. (Chicago Tribune, 1/16/2011)

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