Environmental Justice in Postwar America offers an entirely new take on environmental racism and the environmental justice movement. This book will be an especially useful tool in undergraduate classrooms."                               

—Laura Pulido


This reader collects a wide range of primary source documents on the rise and evolution of the environmental justice movement. The documents show how environmentalists in the 1970s recognized the unequal environmental burdens that people of color and low-income Americans had to bear, yet failed to take meaningful action to resolve them. Instead, activism by the affected communities themselves spurred the environmental justice movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. By the turn of the twenty-first century, environmental justice had become increasingly mainstream, and issues like climate justice, food justice, and green-collar jobs had taken their places alongside the protection of wilderness as “environmental" issues.


Christopher W. Wells is professor of environmental history in the Department of Environmental Studies at Macalester College. Growing up as a student in the Atlanta Public Schools, he tended to see environmental problems as a distraction from more pressing issues of social and racial inequity, and only later realized how deeply the two are intertwined. This book got its start in the classroom, where he struggled alongside his students to try to make sense of the complicated relationship between mainstream environmentalists and advocates for environmental justice. Why did it take a separate movement, led by people of color, to get such a pressing and morally unambiguous set of issues onto the national agenda? He is also the author of Car Country: An Environmental History (2012)  and co-editor (with George Vrtis), of Nature’s Crossroads: The Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota (2022).


Environmental Justice in Postwar America traces the evolution of [the EJ] movement through an extraordinary, unprecedented collection of visual and textual documents, accompanied by brief but insightful editorial commentaries…. The book will be extremely valuable to college-level instructors of courses on environmental justice in the USA, especially in history, but also in other social sciences or interdisciplinary courses…. In addition, although the book is designed with students in mind, it will also be an exceptionally useful resource for seasoned scholars of environmental justice in the USA.” 

  • Ryan Holifield, Journal of Historical Geography 

“This book is a landmark achievement in the field of environmental justice research and the most important historical treatment of the topic I have seen in years."

  • David Naguib Pellow, author of What Is Critical Environmental Justice? and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara 

Environmental Justice in Postwar America offers an entirely new take on environmental racism and the environmental justice movement. This book will be an especially useful tool in undergraduate classrooms."

  • Laura Pulido, author of Environmentalism and Economic Justice

“This is not a story of poor and racialized Americans having a belated environmental awakening. It is instead the tale of them beating down to the doors of institutions and movements that have overlooked them…. Wells has done an invaluable service to historians, activists, and the general public by rendering visible and accessible the diffuse, grassroots political struggles of some of the nation’s and the world’s most exploited people, who have—at long last—recast environmentalism as something worthy of a just, democratic society.”

“With introductory notes on how to read the sources and some thought-provoking study questions, Environmental Justice in Postwar America is designed for the undergraduate classroom, and it should be widely used there in courses on US environmental history, the history of race and environment, and even on social movements in the twentieth century.”

  • Joseph Schiller, Environmental History

“Environmental activists may regard Environmental Justice in Postwar America as absolutely essential to their work."

  • Ellen Griffith Spears, author of Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town

“Readers interested in race and ethnic studies, as well as in social justice and urban studies will be drawn to Environmental Justice in Postwar America."

  • Kathryn Morse, author of The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush

“[A]n excellent compilation of primary source documents on twentieth century EJ in the U.S.”

  • Chad Raphael, Engaged Scholarship for Environmental Justice: A Guide

The first reader of its kind, Environmental Justice in Postwar America is a powerful real-time accounting of a movement that remade modern American environmental politics…. More than that, though, Wells gives us the materials to understand the movement in its rich historical context.”

Twitter @ChrisWells_Mac

University of Washington Press  •  Macalester College