Celebrating Black Environmentalists in Honor of Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) will be highlighting just a handful of the incredible black environmentalists who have made a difference in the world. In this post, we will be looking at the accomplishments of a few distinguished and experienced environmentalists. 

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Fred Tutman is an advocate for Maryland’s watersheds with the goal of bringing people and the river together while also making known the environmental needs of communities, especially those that are disconnected from the environment and have experienced environmental injustice. In 2004, Tutman founded the Patuxent Riverkeeper organization to serve the community he grew up in and address watershed issues there. Since then, he has been and is the only African-American Waterkeeper in the country and is a former member of the Waterkeeper Alliance. In addition to his work as a Waterkeeper, Tutman teaches an adjunct class at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in environmental law and policy, as well as performs trail maintenance on the Appalachian Trail.

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Audrey Peterman is a leading voice for the African-American community and the environment as the president and co-founder of the environmental consulting and publishing firm, Earthwise Productions, Inc. Peterman is also an active board member for the National Parks Conservation Association, the Association of Partners for Public Lands, and the National Parks Promotion Council. She has also authored and co-authored, with her husband Frank, several books including Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care and Our True Nature: Finding a Zest for Life in the National Park System. Peterman has been recognized on many occasions for the incredible work she does and has received the 2013 Apex Distinguished Service Award from Black Meetings and Tourism Magazine, the Environmental Hero Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2000, the George Barley Leadership Award from the Everglades Coalition in 1999, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Outstanding Citizen Conservationist Award from the National Parks Conservation Association in 1997.

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Chip Cartwright is a leader in his forestry career as well as in the diversification of the workforce. After starting his forestry career in 1967, Cartwright became the first African-American District Ranger in 1979, working for the Okanogan National Forest in Washington, then later he also became the first African-American Forest Supervisor as the Supervisor of the Jefferson National Forest. Additionally, Cartwright has held the positions of Acting Deputy Regional Forester in the Rocky Mountain Region and the Intermountain Region, as well as the position of Assistant Director for Ecosystem Management for the U.S. Forest Service. Through his work, he has been able to stress the importance of and develop ways to include more diversity in ecosystem management.

These environmentalists have made great contributions to their communities and the world, advocating for the environment and serving as voices for change. We can all be reminded of their accomplishments, as well as the work that still needs to be done with a quote from Audrey Peterman, “My ambition is to see the day when all Americans love our national treasures the way I do. It makes us feel a little more loving of ourselves, a little more accepting of ourselves and others, to realize we are part of something so glorious. The park system did that for me, so I know it can do it for other people.” Stay tuned for our next post as we continue to honor black environmentalists by highlighting their stories and accomplishments.

AESS would like to acknowledge Heather Heckel for providing resources for this post.