Hazel Johnson

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Hazel Johnson also known as the mother of the Environmental Justice Movement. Johnson, a South Side environmental activist who fought Chicago housing officials on asbestos, blasted corporate polluters and rallied residents to protest contamination. 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. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she hit the streets and began documenting illnesses in her community as evidence that air and water pollution were causing chronic health problems. She founded a group called People for Community Recovery and put pressure on the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from Altgeld Gardens. In the mid-1980s, Mrs. Johnson was introduced to a young organizer named Barack Obama, who also worked on the anti-asbestos effort. 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, holding the federal government accountable for urban communities exposed to pollution. Mrs. Johnson was the eldest of four children born in the area of New Orleans now known as "cancer alley." According to a Tribune interview in 1995, she was the only one of the siblings to reach their first birthday. One brother was stillborn, another died of meningitis at 9 months and her 2-month-old sister died of pneumonia. 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. She famously dubbed the neighborhood "the toxic doughnut." Johnson believed it...
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