African American Scientists and Environmentalists You Should Know

There are many African American scientists, inventors and activists that have made a profound impact on our industry.  We didn’t want the month to pass without highlighting a few to celebrate these great influencers.  During this Black History Month, take a moment to learn about these five African American scientists and environmentalists you should know that helped shape our industry today.

Dr. Robert Bullard

Environmental Justice Advocate

Known as the father of the environmental justice movement, Dr. Bullard’s journey began in 1979 when he rallied against the establishment in Houston that was polluting an African American community.  Landfills and toxic waste sites were often placed within African American communities.  He was a founding Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center, and is an award-winning author of eighteen books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, and more, including two books co-authored with Dr. Beverly Wright (see below).

Dr. Bullard is currently a Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University.

Lisa Jackson

Former EPA Administrator

Lisa Jackson became the first African American Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2009.  She earned a degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University and dedicated her career to reducing greenhouse gasses and fighting pollution.  As EPA Administrator she oversaw many impactful initiatives, including the EPA’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, influenced CO2 emission standards, and proposed amending National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Since 2013, Jackson has worked at Apple Inc. and currently serves as Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives.

Emmett Chappelle

Bioluminescence Techniques

Chappelle’s research in the fields of chemistry and biology significantly influenced laboratory testing today.  In 1963, while working for NASA, Chappelle began exploring the qualities of light given off by different life forms. In charge of developing instruments used to scrape soil from Mars on NASA’s Viking probe, Chappelle realized how chemicals gave off a measurable light when mixed with materials containing living cells. He applied this to detect bacteria in urine, blood, spinal fluids, drinking water, and foods.

His patented method of detecting and counting bacteria enabled the quantitative determination of bacterial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the presence of non-bacterial ATP.  Chappell passed away in 2019 at the age of 93.

Margie Richard

Environmental Justice Advocate

Margie Richard grew up in the historically African-American neighborhood of Old Diamond in Norco, Louisiana, in a house just 25 feet away from Shell Chemicals plant’s fence line. The neighborhood was plagued with high rates of cancer, birth defects, and other diseases.  Years later, she would lead the efforts of a long, hard-won battle to hold Shell accountable for the devastating health problems in her community.

Richard, whose campaign has been hailed as a landmark environmental justice victory, holds the distinction as the first African-American to win the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Dr. Beverly Wright

Deep South Center for Environmental Justice

Dr. Wright is an environmental justice scholar and advocate, author, civic leader, and professor. She is the founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which addresses environmental and health inequities along the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and is a community/university partnership providing education, training, and job placement for underserved populations in environmental justice communities within the United States.

After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the Center has focused its energies largely on research and policy efforts, community outreach and assistance as well as education and training of displaced African American and minority residents of New Orleans, and beyond.  An accomplished author she recently co-authored two books with Dr. Robert Bullard.