Forty years ago, a predominantly Black community’s attempt to prevent the dumping of PCB in a local landfill received largely cursory media attention. At the time, no one referred to the 1982 demonstrations as “the birthplace of the environmental justice movement.”

But that is what it became.

The protests failed to halt depositing PCB in a landfill in Warren County, but the protesters coalesced into a movement. Historians now view the North Carolina protest Jenny photographed as a turning point and a seminal event in U.S. history.

Background and additional stories on the protest can be found here in chronological order:

The fervor of the days hung heavy that September and October. Dull yellow-stained sunlight pressed through the frosted windows of the Coley Springs Baptist Church. People’s legs stuck to the wooden church pews and their arms flapped back and forth holding fans splashed with watercolor portraits of Martin Luther King and John and Bobby Kennedy. Parents, grandparents and schoolchildren squeezed into the rows of pews and turned their shiny faces toward the podium the way they always did before marching. “We’re going to march and march and march until they shut the dump down; “Ken Ferruccio, president of the Warren County Citizens Concerned about PCB, would say. Applause from the crowd followed and soon everyone was chanting and shouting, “We don’t want no PCB, give it to Hunt don’t give it to me.”

“We pray now, oh God, that you will open up our hearts and minds and our understanding. Give us the direction to take and the strength to stand forth together. And above all else, we have faith and trust in Jesus that you will help deliver us from this terrible toxic waste within this county.”

-Rev. Luther G. Brown

Prayer was an integral part of the PCB protest. People were frightened about going to jail before every meeting, march, and arrest, demonstrators would kneel, bow their heads and pray to God for strength and forgiveness.