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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

James Smethurst

Second Advisor

Manisha Sinha

Third Advisor

John Higginson

Fourth Advisor

Francoise N. Hamlin

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Cultural History | Ethnic Studies


The historical scholarship in environmental history centers around the narratives of elite white men. Therefore, scholars such as William Cronon, Dorceta Taylor, Noël Sturgeon, and Carolyn Merchant are calling for research that uncovers the political and moral stances of people of color on nature, land ownership, and environmental pollution. This dissertation addresses this call by engaging William H. Sewell Jr.’s cross-disciplinary approach between history and the social sciences to introduce a nuanced historical analysis that interrogates the channels via which African Americans’ environmental ethic sculpted the development of North American environmental history and activism. This dissertation contends that African Americans interjected a social justice component to environmental activism. Through analyzing government documents, military records, archival documents, oral histories conducted in several states, literary works, diaries, newspapers, Court opinions, religious doctrine, archaeological research, and speeches, this study examines how the natural environment fashioned African Americans’ direct forms of activism against institutionalized slavery, a failed Reconstruction, collapsed economy during the Great Depression, and forced ghettoized living conditions in urban spaces spurred by racial restrictive covenants during the 20th century. These forms of activism include but are not limited to the Negro Spirituals, marronage, institutional educational centers like Tuskegee and Hampton Normal Institute, Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union (STFU), New Negro Harlem Renaissance Movement, civil litigation, and the Black Arts Movement. This work will usher a new discourse in environmental history and bring African Americans into the transnational environmental dialogue.