‘We Need to Focus On People As Well’
In one of the wealthiest countries in the world, access to sanitation still isn’t a guarantee. Catherine Coleman Flowers has been working to fix that.
Catherine Coleman Flowers grew up in rural Lowndes County, Alabama — which is often called “Bloody Lowndes” for its violent, racist past — where her ancestors worked the land as slaves. This legacy has left its mark on her and on the county in the form of low wage jobs, lack of sanitation infrastructure, and enduring poverty.
In 2019, Coleman Flowers founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice to address the health and environmental conditions of rural Americans. From her time outside of Alabama she brings access to new partnerships and a willingness to cross race, class, and party lines to fight for poor, rural communities. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, a board member at Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and rural development manager for the Equal Justice Initiative.
Speaking about her love for Alabama, Coleman Flowers once said, “There is something about that black dirt that gets into your soul.” With its searing legacy of slavery and the Civil War, her Southern roots are crucial to understanding Coleman Flowers’ love of community and the fight for rural environmental injustice that is her life’s work.
Coleman Flowers is the author of a forthcoming memoir, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize for a first book in the public interest. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama. In a recent Zoom conversation, Coleman Flowers shared with me her thoughts on rural poverty, race, and the environmental movement.