I thought the dump was supposed to be in my neighborhood; I am Black

When I was a teenager, like many of the boys in the Renwick and Booker T. Community, I rushed home from school and raced to the city dump.

Curious boys raced to get to the dump to meet trucks that dumped from local department stores because sometimes the stores discarded items that imaginative minds could use. Sometimes there were bicycle frames, warped skates, clothing, and other items in the boxes.

I once found a pair of Converse All-Stars tennis in one of the boxes. The rubber around the edges of one of the shoes was disconnected, but it wasn’t anything that a little glue couldn’t fix. It saved me money because I couldn’t afford the $7.50 for that expensive pair of designer shoes.

The dump was crowded every day. Some scavengers waited for the truck to run from McCormick’s Chicken House on South 24th Street. They often discarded boxes of whole chickens that had bruises or had been left out a little too long. But there were people waiting on the trucks and caught the boxes of discarded chicken parts before they hit the ground, picked through them, and carried whole chickens home, minus the bad parts.

I wasn’t politicized at age 15. I didn’t know that the city dump should not have been located in our neighborhood. I didn’t know that all of the ashes that floated in the air were not floating in every neighborhood in the city. I thought every neighborhood had a dump close by. I didn’t know our neighborhood was the only one chosen.

Every day ashes, soot, and rodents were causing many of our neighbors to get sick, but didn’t connect the dots.

I didn’t even think about the diseases, flies, and rodents that the dump attracted. It was just a fact of life for poor black people.

After the death of Martin Luther King, I started reading, studying about neighborhoods. All of that reading, especially the writings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, King, Gandhi, and others.

They opened my eyes and I began to see.

For the first time, I ventured off Monroe’s Southside and rode the city bus to Monroe’s Northside to see life in North Monroe. There was no dump, no train tracks, and no shotgun houses.

When the Civil Rights workers came to Monroe from CORE and SNCC in the mid 60s I wasn’t old enough to join them. However, in 1969 I was 20 years old. I saw the problem and I began raising hell. On my list was the city dump.

In August of 1969, I started printing a little leaflet called the “Rapping Black” (which later became the Free Press) one of my first articles was about the city dump! The old folks said I was radical and would make whites mad if I kept complaining about the dump.

At the time, I was nearly a lone voice screaming about it. Most had just accepted that it was a fact of life. In 1979,  I ran for the City Council. The closure of the dump was my main issue.

I lost to Benny Ausberry, but he raised the issue, too. He yelled, beat his fist on the table, and held community meetings about it; but no one listened.

Some who went to the meetings decided to take matters into their own hands.

Then mysteriously, no one is saying where the idea came from or who did it, the dump “caught” fight in several places, stretching several blocks. The fires raged for weeks as fire trucks poured water on top of the raging fires.

After a month it was finally extinguished.

The EPA closed the dump supposedly forever.

Our community celebrated that the nightmare was over.

This week we learned that the dump is being used again.

The fires are burning, again.

There is smoke in the air,

City trucks are rumbling through black neighborhoods, packed with the city’s trash, again.

When we asked who is responsible, no one in city hall will say who gave the order.

And the burning continues, in an incinerator, six days a week.

And no one answers.