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Grover Hankins

INTERVIEWEE: Grover Hankins (GH)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 6, 1999
LOCATION: Houston, Texas
TRANSCRIBER: Robin Johnson
REELS: 2042 and 2043

Please note that videos include roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Nnumbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise.

0:01:08 – 2042
GH: …DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], Secret Service. And they couldn’t stand me because I was black, they were white and they didn’t want to help me.
DT: ?
0:01:28 – 2042
GH: Well, I think one of the first things, I mean, this is that – I just thought of, when I was in high school, there was some altercation between the white and black students and someone burned a cross on the football field and that just sort of brought to a head racial relations in Milwaukee, Illinois, where I was born. And the teachers and everybody came together and we tried to work some problems out. I guess another instance is when I was a – a young child, we went to visit my aunt in St. Louis, Missouri, and we went to see this film, Captain Courageous. And, Waukegan [, Illinois], when I went to the movies we would run down into the front and sit in the very front and look up at the t – you know the screen. But, so I started running down the front to do the same thing in St. Louis and everybody screaming at me, the ushers and everybody, come back, come back, we got to go to the balcony. I couldn’t understand that. But I later found out that there was segregation in St. Louis and this was in 1948 or 49. I remember my parents telling me that Nat King Cole couldn’t get a room in the Karcher Hotel in Waukegan. Now that’s ridiculous, I mean, see the South gets a rap for being the worst in segregation and yet the North had a lot of instances of segregation that are not spoken about. I remember riding the train to Mississippi to visit my grandfather who lived in Hermansville, Mississippi, he was a farmer, and we visited him on a few occasions. And, having to get up in the middle of the night to move from one part of the train to another because we crossed the Mason/Dickson line. I can remember traveling to Mississippi with my parents and my brother in 1954, 55, actually it was the same month that Emmett Till was killed, I was in Mississippi at the same time. But, when we traveled there we had no place to stay, so we had to stay on the side of the road. And, my mother cooked food and put in a Dutch pan, a Dutch oven, and we would stop and sit along the side of the road because we couldn’t get food. And, that’s the way we traveled, everywhere. And then when I got to my
0:04:00 – 42
grandfathers he took me downtown in Port Gibson and I wanted to get me a strawberry ice cream cone and the lady gave me chocolate and I didn’t want it. And he said, “come on son”, “he wants it, come on”. And when we got outside he said, “I’m going to get you home before you get me and you both killed, cause I’m not going to let anybody bother you. I can remember the University of Missouri having an all white football team for years. And Notre Dame. And see things like those affected me when it comes to these teams now, I can’t stand Notre Dame or Missouri. I can’t stand Alabama, Texas, you know, because those teams were all white when I was growing up and never recruited any African American athletes. All the athletes that were good in the South went North to Michigan State, to Illinois and to Iowa. And that’s why they had such good teams at that time. I mean, I could go on and on about impressions. But with regard to environmental type concerns, at the time I didn’t know that this was environmental, but one of my uncles who was my favorite died when he was very young having worked in a tannery amongst a bunch of solvents and chemicals, he had cancer. My grandmother had a breast cancer, she died of breast cancer. She had worked I think, in a factory too. My father died of leukemia, and that was something that I was told by the doctors that was rare. And he had worked in a – a utility company for 40 some years. And the doctors believed that the electro-magnetic forces had something to do with that development. My uncle died of mesothelioma and he had worked for some years at Johns Manville which manufactures asbestos. And so I had a lot of people in my life who were affected by chemicals, cancer. My brother, for that reason, wanted to be a doctor and I thought I wanted to be a research scientist and so I ended up being a lawyer.
DT: Can you tell me about the route of becoming a lawyer? It sounds like you few stops a long the way.
0:06:24 – 2042
GH: Oh man, ha, a few.
DT: Let me go back to the issues of racism and segregation. How did your parents explain it to you as a small child?
0:06:55 – 2042
GH: They tell you that that’s the way that it is in the South. And you have to go along to get along otherwise you’ll get hurt, killed, or your relatives will. And so that’s what they did and that’s why they tried to avoid white institutions. I mean, if there was an African American restaurant, we’d go to that. But there weren’t any African American hotels or motels at that time. And so there were a lot of activities in the churches. So, you knew that if you were someplace on a Sunday and you wanted a meal you could go to any church and there would be one. That’s – that was part of the African American tradition was to feed anybody. And that’s about all they would say. And they would and let you know that even though you were treated unequally, that you were just as good or better than the person who treated you that way. Because I had an experience when I was in high school. I remember a kid I used to play with named Billy Miller, and he was white, and, you know, we were just like bosom buddies, and we were going to be buddies forever. But when I got to be a teenager he started shunning me and it hurt me and I asked my mother what was the deal? And she said, she called me “Shug”, and she said. I got to stop… (crying) She said, he’s not better than you are. You just have to remember that”. And she said that, “You’re a better person for getting over that”. And, the world went on.
DT: You were telling me before about going on to college and studying…
0:09:14 – 2042
GH: Yeah, I went to a – Monmouth College for one year and then I transferred because I was one of two African Americans on the campus and I was not very comfortable. Reason being that, it seemed that you had to be in a fraternity, like there was one dormitory for men. After that if you weren’t in a fraternity you had to live off campus. And I just, I didn’t believe that my friends were going to get me into a fraternity. And so I went to Augustana where there were no fraternities, which was a small liberal arts school too. It was a Lutheran school. Monmouth was a Presbyterian, it was in the conference with Knox and Grinnell and Rippon. They call themselves the ivy league of the mid-west. And I graduated from Augustana and there were five of us on campus there. I went to University of Iowa and graduate school for cell biology, and wa – completed all but six hours and my dad kept trying to get me to go teach because I had a family by then, I’d gotten married. And so I went to Omaha Nebraska and taught there, science, math and I was a couch, football, track anything I could get. $4800 a year. And, I stayed, we stayed in Omaha until about 1965 and by then I had two young daughters and I had to make more money. So we moved back to Illinois where I got a job with the school district teaching junior high, which was crazy, I should have never done that. Those kids are, they’ve got so many hormones, it’s incredible. I remember one kid was just so wild one day I just picked him up and set him up on the principal’s desk,
0:11:24 – 2042
“Take him I don’t want him”. But, I taught there and then I – I got a position with [John] Deere and Company because I was working two or three jobs to make ends meet. I was working part time at the hospital, and janitor or what ever I could get. And so I became an industrial engineering analyst and they trained me to be an in-house industrial engineer. And it was during this time that I got involved in some civil rights activities in Rock Island. This is about 1966 and there were no, African Americans couldn’t live in housing anywhere they wanted to, this is in the North. And so we lobbied for an open housing ordinance before the city council. And I got involved with an organization called the Rock Island Interracial Council. And because of that work I was, I got involved with another group which was like the Quad City Human Rights Council that I was the President of. And during that time one of the people that was a member of the group, Peter Lousberg(?), was a lawyer, and he says I think you ought to go into law.
0:12:40 – 2042
And I said I didn’t want to go into law because I had a little television program, a nice house and we were doing well. And he kept bugging me. So finally he got – I went up to the University of Iowa and visited with the Dean and he wanted me to sign up for law school then. But there’s something behind that, my brother was captain of the basketball team at Iowa back in 1964. So one of the reasons I went to University of Iowa for grad school was to watch him. Don Nelson was there, he’s now coach of the Dallas Mavericks. Connie Hawkins, which you – I’m sure you’ve heard of. Let’s see, Jimmy Rogers, who used to coach the Celtics was his team mate. So, I mean, the Dean knew who I was and he encouraged me to apply. And I told him that I had too many bills and that I’d come back. And so I got a part time job, paid off all my bills, and came back. He didn’t believe me. So he put me in a CLEO program and that’s College of Law Equal Opportunity Program that they had started back then to encourage more minorities, not just African Americans but Native Americans, Hispanics, to become lawyers, women too. I mean, woman weren’t a minority but in law school they were nil. So I went to that program and I did well. And I could have gone to Harvard, but I didn’t t because it was too far away. So I – I talked to both Illinois and Iowa. By then I had a family and it was just – I couldn’t see myself moving. And I got the best deal from Illinois. Because, at that time, I was working for Deer and Company. And we had an exchange between churches, African American churches and white churches. And so I went to this white Christian church and Reverend Charles Willey, who was the Pastor, and I became friends. We used to go fishing together and just – you know, talking things over. And one time we were out in the boat, I remember it was in the Fall because the trees were falling down and it was kind of chilly and we were catching Blue Gill left and right. And he says, “Grover, I think you ought to go to law school”. I said, “no, I can’t do that, nobody wants me to go”. He said, “Look, if you don’t go now, 20 years from now you’ll look back and wish you had. I don’t care whose telling you not to go, you mother, your father, your wife, – go”. So I did. I didn’t just go in, I still mulled it over and one day he called
0:15:27 – 2042
me and when, it was at lunch time, he said, “Look, I’m going to go down and do a service in Champaign, why don’t you come down with me”. I said, “How the heck are you going to get to Champaign in a half hour?” He said, “I’m flying”. He says, “Come on, I’ll pick you up, you’ll be back in an hour and a half”. And sure enough I was. And during that period I decided to go to Illinois. It was really funny. And so I graduated from Illinois and I went to the Justice Department in the honors program and – in the Civil Rights Division Employment Section. And it was one of the best experiences that I’ve had in life. I mean, we as a Section, we still keep in touch with each other because we litigated all over the country, a lot of us from the South, white and black, and we became like a fraternity. I shouldn’t fraternity because there were woman too. I guess I could say fraternity/sorority. But, it was difficult because the rest of the Justice Department looked down on us like we were part of the mod squad because we all dressed like hippies; when we came to work. But when we went to court, we were dressed appropriately. Most of us had beards. I even had an afro then, big one, I used to braid it. And there’s a picture on my wall that shows me when I was in law school going to work with Congressman [Tom] Railsback, who was from Illinois. And I had a short haircut for me, and my beard shaved off, but, I mean we, that was the 60s and 70s, you know. So after I left the Justice
0:17:16 – 2042
Department Civil Rights Division, I transferred to the Criminal Division because when President Carter came in, Griffin Bell stopped all litigation. And I just – I love litigation. I stayed there for a year and since there was nothing going on I tried to get farmed out to U.S. Attorney’s offices and nobody would do it. So I transferred to the Criminal Division and moved to Kansas City and I was in the Organized Crime Strike Force for five and a half years. And, let’s see, private practice after that for about four years. Then I became National General Counsel for the NAACP.
DT: Can you tell me about one of your first environmental cases that was also a historical case?
0:18:07 – 2042
GH: That was in Kansas City, Kansas, when I was in Kansas City. It involved an old African American neighborhood called Quindaro. And, it was on the banks of the Missouri River, between Missouri and Kansas. And, it was on the Kansas side, and, as history goes, that area was one of the largest encampments for Louis and Clark as they went westward on their trek. They saw one of the largest Indian encampments and it was noted in their journals. Also, later on, when slavery was the institution of the day, in Parkville, Missouri about a mile up stream on the Missouri side there was a slave market. And sometimes the slaves would escape and swim across the river or walk across on the ice or hold onto logs, and they would reach Kansas. And Kansas was a free state then. And they would be helped, by the Wyandot Indians and some sympathizing whites, to safety and eventually freedom in Canada. Because John Brown was there with them and helped shepherd them to safety. And to this – I mean they have a statue in that community, made out of white marble, by an Italian sculptor, that these African Americans paid for to John Brown. It’s – it’s in Quindaro now. And, there was a cemetery there that had head stones back in the 1820s, 1830s, Spanish American War, Civil War, on a beautiful hillside. There was a – had been a Freedman School there too. And so there were wild strawberries and blackberries growing there because they had trained the ex-slaves to become agrarian. And, one of the remnants of that school was a hospital. And the hospital had just closed. And that school was started the same time as Howard University after slavery. And so we tried to stop BFI from putting a landfill in the area because it would destroy the area and the history. And, we were sponsored by a white law firm, because they represented by a client that wanted to put it in an old stone quarry which was a more appropriate place. And I learned a lot in that experience about leachate and what could happen and how it could destroy water supply. And the fact that there was a landfill in Parkville, Missouri that had leachate and they found the leachate in the river. And the water supply for the city of Kansas City, Kansas was a mile and a half down stream, the intake, and for Kansas City, Missouri was two miles down stream. And we raised all of those things in court but they meant nothing to the judge. It was a judge – bench trial. And although he said we raised very good points he
0:21:27 – 2042
ruled against us. But by that time, I had filed complaints with the Department of Transportation, with the EPA, the Historic and Preservation Society. And it was during that time that the United States was in an uproar about bridges collapsing. There had been bridges collapsing in Florida, in New York and several other places. So the DOT [Department of Transportation] voted, ruled that they could not put a spur across a major highway to get access to property. And then the Historic and Preservation Society did a dig and found artifacts. So that was the beginning and the end for the dump. The Mayor still tried to push it through. But the City Council voted against him. And, once he was voted out, the new City Council came in and said there’d never be a dump there. They were sued. It was dismissed. Today there’s new historic park to Native Americans and African Americans on that site. So that was my first environmental experience. And it carried over with me into the Bush Administration when I became Principal Deputy General Council on Dr. Sullivan. And he, during that time I was fortunate to give speeches for him from time to time, and attend different conferences. And one of those conferences was on environmental justice. So I went to that conference and I had to decide what I was going to do when I grew up, in other words, when I got out of the Bush Administration. So I decided to be a Professor, and that was going to be my area. And so when I came here to Texas Southern, the Dean was all for it and he tried to help me meet people here at the university who would help foster that dream. And I met Henry Louis, Dr. Henry Louis who was head of Pharmacy and he really wanted to start developing that too. So he helped me get involved with getting grants and what-have-you. And I got a small grant and that’s how we started.
DT: Can we sort of wined this back just a little bit. When you were at NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] you were counsel there, is that right?
0:23:42 – 2042
GH: Yes
DT: And you tried to introduce a case about lead poisoning. Can you tell about the sort of reception you got?
0:24:04 – 2042
GH: Well, when I was general counsel for the NAACP one of my duties was to try and find ways of getting money. And I did a lot of reading about scientific things. And I found that African American children were being disproportionately affected by lead poisoning. And the NRDC was of the same mind and so I talked with the general counsel there. And we were to get together to try to get some funding to work with branches all over the country and deal with lead poisoning litigation. But the Executive Director, at the time, Ben Hooks, felt that we could spend our money more wisely on other things. So that was shelved. And, although it bothered me, it still stayed in my mind. And we’re going to start doing some lead cases here pretty soon.
DT: Can you talk a little bit more about the Director’s reaction and how he may have been balancing different discrimination issues?
0:25:08 – 2042
GH: (talking over David) Oh yeah. It’s not just discrimination issues, it’s money. Because if you put money in one pot, you’ve taken it away from another. And so he, the NAACP had very modest amounts of money, and modest is not the right word. And so we were trying to do litigation in voting rights, in school desegregation, in employment, in housing, in every way, you know, there were a lot of criminal situations. I don’t know if you remember the Arnold Racy case where this young African American was accused of treason. A Marine over in Russia. My lawyers defended him and he was acquitted. There was another situation where an African American engineer, I can’t remember his name now, but I can see his face, was put in jail here in Texas, up in Greenville, Texas. He was sitting in a park and they picked him up for robbery. And he was convicted. And then one of the attorneys from the NAACP who was on my staff, got him acquitted by defending a person who was supposed to be one of his co-robbers. He’s a very talented lawyer, George Harrist(?). And, I mean, we did some good things. Like suing the City of Tulsa that had never had an African American City Council Person and had a commissioner form of government. We dismantled that. We desegregated the Milwaukee schools. There are a number of things we did when I was General Counsel. We started an employment program for suburban employment, where, for example in Forsyth, Georgia. They may have police, fire, what have you, but African Americans can’t work in there fire and police departments, yet they can come into Atlanta to work. And so that program was to stop that. And it has. And I see in the papers that it’s continuing, because it’s headed by the former Chief of my employment section when I was at the Justice Department. I hired him as the person to head the program and he’s done a good job with it, …after he retired.
DT: Maybe aside from litigation, the resources, maybe you could tell me a little bit about how environmental concerns stacked up just when ya’ll were talking about policy at NAACP.
0:27:52 – 2042
GH: Well, at that time the environment was not believe to be as immediate, as meaty an issue, as was voting and some of the other things I was mentioning. There were studies, at least there was a study that came out, I think – pretty close – it was about 1983 / ’84, when I first got started, by the United Church of Christ, which spoke about where landfills and hazardous waste was being put. That was the first realization by African American leaders that the environment was playing a part in their lives. And so this was an early period in dealing with those issues, because people had just accepted living where they lived. I mean, they knew that they lived there because of money, because the banks wouldn’t loan them money, because they couldn’t get mortgages, but they didn’t know why. And so that was all part of this desegregation process.
DT: This was the mid 80s?
0:29:05 – 2042
GH: Yeah. It was 84 through 89.
DT: And after you worked for the NAACP you moved on to work for?
0:29:14 – 2042
GH: I was in the Bush Administration. Benjamin Hooks and George Bush were good friends. I told Dr. Hooks that I felt that it was time that I move on and I could do something in the Bush Administration. So he helped me get a position with the Bush Administration in Health and Human Services with Dr. Sullivan. And I was the Principal Deputy General Counsel, which is number two in the General Counsel’s office.
DT: Did environmental concerns figure in there?
0:29:49 – 2042
GH: We had, I think one case that would probably be considered environmental and that was in conjunction with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is a different organization, unfortunately. Once we were one, but they had a division. They were doing litigation against the states that were not complying with the Lead Act. And we sort of joined forces and imposed conditions on the state that they start screening children for lead poisoning. And that’s about as close as we came. And then Dr. Sullivan allowed me to go to a conference for him. And it was the first environmental justice conference and it was held in James Town, Virginia, of all places. And that’s when I decided that that’s what I wanted to do. Because it meshed both my science background and my law – legal background.
DT: And I guess, not long after that you came to TSU?
0:31:01 – 2042
GH: Right. I’d met Jim Douglas who was the former President and former Dean of law school at some conferences when I was with the NAACP. He was a runner, and so was I, then. And so when I told him I wanted to go into teaching, he – I was interviewing with like 17 different schools at this meat market, and I got offers from the University of Washington, from Tulsa, from Pitt, that’s where I was headed. And he just snared me away, because he had me talk to a lot of my friends around the country and they told me that I needed to give something back. And, what the heck, I did it.
DT: And this was ’92?
0:31:53 – 2042
GH: Umhum.
DT: And you came down here and began teaching?
0:32:59 – 2042
GH: I came down here and I was the distinguished visiting Professor. And after that position, they asked me – the Dean asked me to stay. And I became a Professor. And I taught a variety of different courses. And eventually I settled on teaching environmental law, having an environmental justice clinic, and teaching advanced trial advocacy in the Spring, and sometimes international environmental law. So I’m sort of the environmental program here. There’s another Professor that teaches it as well. And we’ve been helping communities of color and poor communities deal with environmental issues, not just here in Houston, but all across the country. I mean, some of them, when we had enough money I would allow the students to go with the staff lawyer and community organizer and we would, you know, help work ups – up situations for lawyers to work on in other states. But we’ve helped a number of communities here in Texas and Louisiana which is close by. And intend to keep doing that.
DT: You said just a bit ago, that the Dean of the Pharmacology school helped. Was that right?
0:33:19 – 2042
GH: Dean of the Pharmacy school.
DT: What sort of interest did he bring to it?
0:33:25 – 2042
GH: Well, the reason he was interested is because the Pharmacists are actually the first line of, I don’t know if you call it protection or defense. But they notice certain symptoms in people and they can tell whether or not they’re affected by chemicals and tell that to their doctor. And he had a number of Professors who were doing research on areas that would have a bearing on environmental cases like toxicology and pharmacology, and things like that. There’s a Professor over there at Doctor Mehta who does bio-market research which is, you know, right up the line, in the area of toxic chemicals. Another one has done research on lead poisoning. Another one whose done research on cancer. So those are the things he saw would fit with the legal department and people could go out and get practical experience in the field.
DT: Could you talk about some of the cases the clinic has taken on?
0:24:36 – 2042
GH: Well, one of them was against Texas A & M. I know you’ll like that. They were building the George Bush Library and they had about 2000 head of hogs that they wanted to put someplace because it was next to their stadium. And they were going to put the Bush Library there. So they moved them right across the street from this African American community. And we sued to enjoin that. And, it settled, but it had another story to it too, which I won’t get into. But it did sell. But, the reason was, we had two witnesses who were both white, and one was a former Vice-Chancellor for Financial Affairs, the other was the former head of the PR Department. And they both were in attendance at the meeting where this, the deciding of this – these pigs was discussed. And the Board of Regents used racial epithets. And they were ready to testify to that. So when they were sitting outside the courtroom and these, all these guys come walking in, in gray suits and blue suits, and they saw them there. Ten minutes later, the Attorney General’s office told the judge they wanted to talk settlement. And then, lets see, what else? There are a number of situations. We’ve helped communities in Odessa, Texas. Communities is Port Arthur, Texas. Prior to, one of the most recent things is when they were going to ship napalm from California to burn it in an incinerator in Port Arthur. And we filed some complaints with the Depart. – EPA on that and they moved it on to
0:36:41 – 2042
somewhere in Louisiana. They were shipping DDT to be burned in the same incinerator, from another community in California. So the heads of that community came here and met with us and we worked on stopping the burning in Port Arthur. I mean, a lot of things are coming to mind. So many, I can’t even think of them. We helped a community in Ani – no, in Corpus Christi by filing a large administrative complaint with the EPA about the disparate treatment by the TNRCC [Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission] and the City of Corpus Christi to – to these people of colored neighborhood, in Corpus. I don’t know if you know Corpus, but there’s a huge area which is sur – of houses and apartments that are interspersed with storage tanks and refineries and chemical companies and lead smelters. And it’s so horribly polluted and the people can’t afford to move out. And they have explosions and releases on a daily basis. And the health incidences are horrible. They have the highest blood lead level in children in the whole state of Texas. There were several children born without genitalia. A lot of cancer, lupus, you name it. And, so we filed a complaint, because the emissions were not being challenged by either the TNRCC or the – the City. I mean, the complaint is still pending, but it sure did put a damper on what was happening. And that’s because the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] doesn’t have enough staff. But we did file a complaint with HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development], in Corpus, where they were going to put a housing development on top of an old bus barn site, where the state of Texas had shown that they had diesel oil and benzene contamination underneath the ground. And, they were going to put a sixteen and a half million dollar project there, and we stopped it, by filing the complaint with HUD. Let’s see, we filed ano – one with HUD in Corp – Beaumont. They were going to build housing again, up against the fence line of, next to a mobile refinery. We stopped housing from being built there. So those are some of the things. We’ve been working with communities in Arkansas. We’ve been working with communities in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, with, they have landfills, some of them, some of them
0:39:42 – 2042
have Super Fund sites. And if we don’t help legally, we help get the ATSDR [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry], which is a – does health studies, or the EPA there to help control what’s going on, or we get attorneys to represent them in toxic tort cases. So, presently we’re working on some contested hearing cases with local white groups, ‘cause we don’t discriminate one who we work for. We believe in working for anybody who has an environmental problem. And both of these communities have been impacted by environmental contamination, and we intend to help them.
DT: Can you tell a little bit more about the clients and groups that refer cases to you?
0:40:34 – 2042
GH: Well, we have a web page. Don’t ask me to quote it, ‘cause I can’t. It’s too long. Martina probably could. But, we get some hits from the web page. But our reputation for trying to help people without asking money, has proceeded us. And we’re, sort of, going down the drain because of that. We can’t, it’s hard for us to get funding, because we do some litigation. And a lot of grant makers don’t fund litigation. We tried our direct mail thing, and that didn’t work, we got $6000. That didn’t help much. But, we’re still going to try and get more funding. And we’ve been successful in helping scientists work with people, do studies with the communities, show that they are impacted, from peer r – peer review studies. We’ve worked with Marvin Legator from UTMB [University of Texas Medical Branch], whose one of the top genetic toxicologists. And he’s gone into some of the communities that we’ve worked with. We’ve tried to help people in New Orleans who live on top of a dump, get relocated. They live on top of a old agriculture straight landfill. And it’s heavily contaminated with lead and a number of other chemicals. Because dumping has been going on there for – since 1910. And they didn’t have any place in New Orleans to build new housing for African Americans, so back in the 60s they built it there. And, these people are suffering as a result of it. And the Mayor, the present Mayor, whose African American, is not helping. They’re caught in a big political bind. And so we’re trying to help them. We’re work…
…the community…
DT: …a church, or a non-profit, or just neighborhoods?
0:42:39 – 2042
GH: Usually it’s a nonprofit group. The people organize under, we work in conjunction with the southern organizing committee, which is in Atlanta. And County Tucker is a head of that. And because we’ve helped county with a lot of situations she keeps giving us more communities and we keep helping them as much as we can. We’ve become friends with people and they know that we will do the best that we can for them. So they refer us to other communities. And usually they are nonprofit, community organizations.
0:43:18 – 2042
GH: …Teast(?), she’s interesting too. I mean, she worked out on the oil rig, and, she’s done a…
DT: Professor Hankins, can you tell us about some of your clients and people you’ve met and representing?…
0:43:34 – 2042
GH: You just want people in Texas?
DT: It doesn’t necessarily have to be in Texas, but environmental activists, and?…
0:43:41 – 2042
GH: Well, there are a number of them. One of them, you mentioned Reverend Malveaux, he’s a feisty little guy. He’s like a pit bull. I mean, he won’t give up on anything. And, he’s for right, no matter how he can get it. And, I mean, you get a lot of energy from people like him. There’s LaNell Anderson, whose a friend of mine, and she’s a feisty little grandmother. And she’s been fighting for environmental issues for a long time. And she does such good research until it’s just, unreal. I told her she needs to go to law school and she said, “It’s too late”. I think, let’s see, I gotta think of a, [Rev.] Ransom Howard who was in Port Arthur. And he used to be a disciple of Martin Luther King. And he decided he wanted to come back to Texas. And he tells me stories about when he, they were trying to be active and get some civil rights issues honed out in Port Arthur. And the Klan came and told him they were going to, you know, burn his church. So he got his Deacon Board and they all had shot guns, and they had all the windows and they had their sleeping bags. And he called the Mayor up and he said, “Mayor, you better call your dogs off”. Or the police chief, I can’t remember who it was. But, they left. Because they were going to have war. I mean, he’s – he’s a good man, he’s got a good church. I think he’s into community development now. Because we, there’ve been several law suits started, toxic tort suits, so I’ve kind of lost contact with him, in that regard. And the, there’s a lady who works with him name Laver – Laverta Baptist(?). And she’s a colorful lady too. She’s, I mean she’s got a heart as big as Texas. And she tries to help everybody and every thing. And she’s, almost single handedly kept – kept this environmental justice and community development going. And I think they have a brownfields grant going now. There’s a gentleman in Lake Charles that I wasn’t able to help. We had started a law suit, but because of what happened with him in another case, he had to back out, Mr. Prince(?). And, I think he just lost the fire, because they put the – the County of Vista put their foot on his neck. He – his wife has ovarian cancer, and because of the litigation before, with Conoco and County of Vista, they had moved – relocated everybody. And he didn’t want to move because he has this huge aviary, I mean, beautiful. He constructed it himself, he’s a – he’s a chemist. And this was like his hobby. And he’s got these rare birds in there and turkeys and geese and chickens. And then he’s got brooders and eggs with different dates on the, when they’re going to hatch, and all kinds of stuff. And then he’s got a place where he cooks, you know, like a gazebo, and it’s – got a little kitchen in there. And so he didn’t want to leave it, but he was right up against the fence. And so they kept hassling about running a train like 2 or 3
0:47:32 – 2042
in the morning. So he put his truck in front of it, so they couldn’t do it. They – they charged him with a misdemeanor, and, two misdemeanors, ‘cause he did it twice. ‘Cause they were aggravating his wife, in her sleep. And, so they charged him with the misdemeanors, we had already filed a case in his wife’s behalf. And, as a resolution to the misdemeanors he decided to take a little bit of money that they were going to give him and fold it in with those misdemeanors and move. And, I haven’t heard from him, but I’m going to call him and look him up. I mean, there’s something going over there that should never have happened to those people. Connie Tucker, is another feisty little woman. She’s the head of the southern organizing committee in Atlanta. And, she was on the COI- she prides herself on having been on the COINTELPRO list of the FBI with J. Edgar Hoover, with Angela Davis and these other people. And she was good friends with, Kwame Toure, you’d know him as Stokely Carmichael. And she’s colorful, short, feisty and she organizes communities all over the south. She recently has started the African American Environmental Justice Network. And, because she feels that for us to interface with other groups, like whites and Native Americans and Orientals, we needed to get our own act together, which I think is right. And, because we’ve assisted her in the past, the clinic here, she sends us a lot of clients. And that’s why we got so many, I guess the word of mouth is gotten around that we try and help, anyway. Bob Bullard, a Professor at Clark, Atlanta, he’s sort of like the environmental justice guru, he’s written probably close to twelve books on different aspects of environmental justice. The first he wrote was called Dumping in Dixie. And it told, it chronicled all of the different environmental injustice situations throughout the South. And then he wrote a book on
0:49:50 – 2042
Unequal Justice, Just Transportation, on and on. He’s written a number of books. And he lectures, he testifies and he has a clearinghouse for environmental justice in – at the – on the Clark, Atlanta campus. Dr. Beverley Wright at Xavier [University], she’s also, she and Bob were the first environmental s – they’re both environmental sociologists – Ph.D.s. And they’ve written extensively, both in peer review journals and – and books. And she’s over the Deep South Environmental Justice Center, and she conducts symptom surveys for communities so that they can determine what kinds of illnesses that they have. Let’s see, I’m trying to think, oh, what’s her name, in Athens, Texas, this is a white lady. I can’t think of her name now. But she owns a company called California Girl. And, I’ll think of it, I keep telling myself that. And what she did was organize this law suit against a former television manufacturing facility because they had contaminated the grounds so badly. And she was behind the scenes. She organ – helped the people organize, but she -nobody could put their finger on, you know, where they were getting information. Her – some of her employees, a young lady, all of them – most of her employees were white, but not all of them. And the used to go into the facility and get information and all kinds of things to help demonstrate that these people were dying from more than just regular living. ‘Cause there was a lot of Dioxin, a lot of PCBs, a lot of solvents, that were in the ground water and were moving gradient. And, then there’s Phyllis Glazer, at Winona. They call her the Toxic Avenger, I guess because she spent half of her fortune from the
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Seagrams family, fighting Gibraltar Chemicals. They’ve now moved to Mexico to pollute. And she’s fighting this other one that’s there and there’s still a law suit still going on too. Geez, many people. The Bradshaws, up in Memphis, Tennessee, Kenneth and Doris. They’ve been fighting against contamination that was caused by a governmental facility, an army depot, that’s moved out into this African American community. And nobody wants to believe that the contamination exists, but they’ve been – been doing it. There’s Reverend Zack Lyde, in Brunswick, Georgia. He’s a throwback to the past. I mean, he’s a combination militant minister, fiery, not afraid to put his life on the line. Because that’s the way it is in South Georgia now, it’s very difficult for African American people, it hasn’t changed very much since the past. And, Cassandra Robertson from Birmingham, Alabama, who is a cute little house wife who also happens to be a parole officer. But she organized this group of people to fight against Monsanto. And so we got people relocated. And now there’s a – there are two major law suits that have sort of spun away from the activity that they did before. I mean, one of the things that they did, Connie helped organize them, of course, and then in order to stop Monsanto from digging in their neighborhood, they got coffins from a ceme – from an undertaker and put them in front of the bulldozers. And USA Today and CNN were there, and there was no more digging.
DT: Can you sort of generalize about what it is that these people have in common? I mean it’s not an easy task to take this on.
0:54:45 – 2042
GH: One of the things is they don’t have fear. I mean they realize that they may not be alive, within a day or two, not because of disease, but because of a bullet or a car running you off the road. Harold Mitchell, a young guy who I’ve been working with in Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville, Spartanburg, was that way and he was run off the road one night. People have been shot at, you know, because they tried to deal with issues with these chemical companies. And some of it probably doesn’t necessarily come from the companies themselves, but from the workers. Phyllis has had, Phyllis Glazer, has had the heads of some of her prized animals cut off and put on stumps. I mean she could tell you some horror – horrendous stories. So, they don’t have fear. They have one track mind when it comes to justice. And, they know what their goal is and they don’t let anything stop them from reaching that goal. Most of them are very religious. They think that all people deserve to have a life free from pollution. And, they’re willing to work with anybody who feels that way, no matter what color they are. They’re very strong minded people and willed people. And sometimes they have lapses, just like everybody else, but that doesn’t deter them from moving on. And one of the things they keep in mind is their children, or their grandchildren, in the case of Phyllis and LaNell and me. So…
DT: Can you talk about some of the concerns that these people have for their children, their grandchildren, their communities…?
0:57:53 – 2042
GH: Well, and then there’s Lynn Battle. I forgot Lynn. She’s a single mother in Birmingham, Alabama, with a daughter, Destiny, whose basically been raised by the environmental justice community ‘cause she comes to all of our conferences. And she’s disabled herself, she has lupus. But she’s a CPA. And she doesn’t work as a CPA, she’s working for an awareness group in Birmingham. I’ve forgotten what you asked me now.
DT: A woman like Lynn, would she be sort of typical of the folks that you’ve met and the type of concerns she’s got about her children or grandchildren or community? Can you give some examples of what she’s worried about?
0:57:52 – 2042
GH: They want to make sure that it’s a better world for them. That they don’t have to fight the same battles. That some how companies are going to have the realization that they have to be good corporate citizens. And not have a need for pe – activists like themselves looking over their shoulder all the time. Sometimes I think that that may never happen and there may need to be a new generation of activists. And as a result, county has developed a youth group. So, and they’re going to try and move onto campuses dealing with issues like that.
DT: …this issues about health, or is it about the property values in their town, or people leaving their town?
0:58:38 – 2042
GH: (talking over David) Health… It’s about… Well… Property values, of course. But health is the main issue, because a lot of the chemicals that contaminate environments have a teratogenic or mutagenic effect. Teratogenic meaning it can skip generations. Mutagenic meaning it can cause chromosomal mutations. And, so they know that this is just like environmental genocide. And as a result of that, they’re trying to put an end to it.
DW: You mentioned something about military bases. And when you come to fighting an issues like this, how different is our own government as an enemy as opposed to Dupont or Monsanto?
0:59:33 – 2042
GH: Good point.
DW: Because the government is not also supposed to cut your brake lines.
0:59:37 – 2042
GH: (talking over David) That’s right.
DW: So maybe you could discuss with David the difference between that.
0:59:41 – 2042
GH: They may not cut your brake lines, but they act the same way as a corporation.
DT: Maybe you could field the questions you answered about the difference between government and private industry as an opponent in dealing with environmental issues(?)?…
0:59:55 – 2042
GH: (talking over David)…Okay. Okay. The difference between private industry and the government is, in environment, in dealing with environmental issues is zero, because they act the same. I mean, the federal government, talking about the Department of Energy and the Department of the Army, they posture, they tell you that there is nothing there, there’s no contamination, your health problems are a figment of your imagination, and they – they just stonewall it, just like a regular corporation does. So, there’s absolutely no difference what so ever, unfortunately. And you would think that the government is supposed to be your friend because your helping pay their salaries, indirectly. But they aren’t. And so Kenneth Bradshaw and Doris have been fighting a battle, a lonely battle in Memphis, because even attorneys don’t know how to address issues involving government litigation. Because federal judges always give deference to the Army and the Navy, and all the armed forces, when you go into court. So it’s like fighting a loosing battle. So you have to find some other way of dealing with the issues. And, one of the things that has happened is to try to get some kind of Congressional
1:01:14 – 2042
hearings. Maxine Waters, who I’m sure you’ve heard about, is not afraid to start and, Congressional hearings on anything. Especially if it’s going to impact African American, or not just African American, but people of the colored community. ‘Cause she’s interested in everybody.
DT: Can we talk a little bit about more about the opponents that you’ve run up against…
DT: We were talking earlier about some of the opponents that you’ve had in environmental justice cases and the difference between government defendants and corporate defendants. And I was curious if you could talk a little bit more opposition that you run into.
0:01:42 – 2043
GH: Well, they run the gamut. There are some who care, I mean, they genuinely care. They don’t believe they’ve done anything, but when they discover that they do, they try and rectify it. Monsanto was one of those companies in Anniston, Alabama. They’ve tried to correct some of the things. Because I, when we started working on that case, this – this was not with the clinic, we started with the clinic, but then when we saw that it had to become a toxic tort case, I went along with my co-counsel to St. Louis, the headquarters for Monsanto, told them what we were going to do, suggested that we would like to take it off the – to file it and take it off the trial docket, and then see if they wouldn’t relocate our clients, the one’s who were in the impacted area. And they agreed to do it. I mean, we had to determine what the level of pay was going to be for the property so that they would be able to get an appropriate, quality property somewhere else. But, in that instance, it worked. We’re talking now with another company, Humble Oil, in Odessa. Where they’ve had several major releases. And so far it’s been a pretty amicable discussion about how to resolve it. But, if they don’t call me back pretty soon, it won’t be too amicable. We’ve had, we have a company now, in Greenville, Spartanburg, where this community is just totally contaminated with radiation, with PCBs, with sulfuric acid, with, I mean, just a host of things that they use to manufacture fertilizer. And they’re just in denial. They, they hired a PR Director to go around and make sure their public image is enhanced. They go to Atlanta, where the regional EPA office is and try and poison their minds against the community, telling the EPA there’s nothing there. They don’t need to follow through. There are companies like
Shell and Dow in Torrance, California who did the right thing and relocated part of a neighborhood. So there are, they run the gamut.
DT: Environmental justice cases seem different from a lot of them, where the remedy is, stop doing what you’re doing, get a permit or pay a fine, but it seems like many of these environmental justice cases are more complex. Can you talk about some of the remedies that you see?
0:04:50 – 2043
GH: Well, it depends on whether you’re talking about a toxic tort case or an environmental case. In environmental cases, what we’ve tried to do is stop different corporations from expanding their operations into a neighborhood. Or stop them from giving off too many releases of toxins. Right now, Martina and Lana are working with a community in Walla County that’s trying to prevent this steel company from getting a double-barreled permit to pollute. And if they are allowed to develop this big steel company and an on site town, they’ve already brought in about a hundred trailers so they can bring in Mexican workers, to work at their facility, on site. I mean, it’s – it’s unreal. And so they’re fighting with those residents, who are predominantly white, to stop the overtaxing of their sewage and drainage systems. We have a – another community in Sea Brook, which is white, who came to us a few weeks ago. These two woman have been fighting a valiant effort themselves, against Vinson and Elkins. And getting beat about the head and legs. And they came in and they were getting ready to give up and we said we’d help them. But they – they’re trying to stop Elf Atochem from expanding into their community. Now Sea Brook has, in their charter, that no chemical company or refinery is supposed to exist in Seabrook. And yet the Mayor has given a thou – a hundred of acres of property to Elf Atochem in exchange for them setting up a park in something –
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some – somewhere else. So we’re going to try and deal with that through a declaratory judgment and use the charter as the basis. The expansion that they’re trying to conduct involves three facilities, one of them being an incinerator. But rather than take all of the pollutants into account when they did their, I can’t think of it, when they did their engineering to try and find out how much pollutant is going to be put into the atmosphere, I can’t think of the word now. I wish I could, …modeling, when they did their modeling, they did each individual facility. And that puts them, sort of like, you know, the rockets coming below the salary cap. That’s what they did. But if they modeled it all together, it’s going to be over the, you know, the boundary. And yet the TNRCC is working with them. And so we’re going to challenge that. And tell the TNRCC that they need not give them any type of modification, waiver, whatever it is. They shouldn’t have it. I mean, see, part of the problem is, all of the lawyers, all of the corporations, and even some of the people in the EPA say they are going according to the regulations. And they most definitely are. They tow the mark. But that’s not the issue. Just because they’re going according to regulations doesn’t mean that Johnny’s not getting neurological problems from hydrogen sulfide. Or, Johnny’s not being – becoming hyperactive or having Attention Deficit Disorder because of chemical exposure. Okay? So that’s the issue. And until companies confront that issues, there’s going to be a juxtaposition between corporations and communities. And – and – commu – tbe corporations want to tow the letter of the law. Can’t do it. Health means more than that.
DT: So the regulations aren’t sufficient to protect?…
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GH: (talking over David) No they aren’t.
DT: Any speculation why that is?
0:09:29 – 2043
GH: Because corporate largesse has lobbied hard enough to get it where they know it shouldn’t be.
DT: You talked about Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission and you mentioned EPA before. Can you talk about the roll of these agencies in trying to police environmental justice problems?
0:09:54 – 2043
GH: Well, unfortunately, the EPA, because it is the major reg – regulatory agency in the country for environmental issues, has had to delegate authority to the states. That’s because they don’t have enough people to help them police. And they have to trust the states to do that. Now if the states don’t do it, they can pull back the – the delegation. But that has to be a challenge that’s made by people who care about the environment. And in Texas the TNRCC has traditionally been in bed with corporations. And whatever they wanted they got. And what other they want, they get. In the recent past, though, it has been the opposite. Of course the fines that have been levied haven’t been enough. But they have been there. So there is some activity going on that’s appropriate now. But still, the majority of the situations and the culture of the TNRCC is to stand behind industry. To encourage industry to want to be in Texas. Texas is slowly becoming the dumping spot of the nation. There are landfills everywhere, toxics waste sites, they were trying to bring in low level radio active waste. We helped fight that fight, I forgot about that. That was Sierra Blanca. My international environmental justice – environmental law class did the work on a complaint to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy, the EPA and I think one other agency. The –all of the agencies found that our submission was premature. But it served as like a template for the fight against the low level radio active waste dump that was going to be put in West Texas. And it was eventually denied, permission to be put there.
DT: Can you talk more about the roll of the students in the clinic and in your classes that get involved in environmental justice issues?
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GH: Well, they did all the research on that – that low level toxic waste facility. We’ve dealt with conventions, we’ve dealt with trans-boundary issues. They did the research on it. I was sort of like a shepherd, and they wrote it up as like a team. And it was a beautiful a – beautiful document. The students do most of the research, or we have Martina and I are the ones that have to look it over, whether it’s right or wrongs and make sure that the activity continues. Because you have, excuse me, dates that you need to meet if you’re in court. So, it’s a tough road, especially when you only have one attorney to help you. You need probably three or four. So, the students do research, they write memoranda, they draft legal documents. And we’re trying to get them in court. We’ve had some students that have gone into court, because they get this temporary Bar license. And, we had one student represent a community in Arkansas and he did a – a dynamite job for that community.
DT: Speaking of the temporary Bar license. I read recently read recently that the Tulane Clinic had gotten blocked from getting access to the courts. Can you tell about that issue, whether you are every worried about that happening at TSU?
0:13:57 – 2043
GH: Gentech. Bob Cune, a friend of mine, he used to be with the Justice Department in the Environmental and Nature Resources Division. And he was the director of the Tulane Clinic. He is now in St. Louis for this semester and next semester he’ll be at the University of Michigan. So he’s sort of moving West. His wife has decided that he’s going to be a house-mom and she’s going to win the bread. But he got tired of fighting against the Governor and the powers that be in the state Louisiana, to try and make sure that his students were going to get an opportunity to be educated properly in dealing with environmental issues. At every turn they were stopped. He was investigated. The students were investigated. The university’s funds were a – although they were private they still get some state funds – they were cut. Letters were sent out to Alumni to stop. I mean it was just…hell. But they fought a winning battle against Gentech, which in a Japanese corporation. And it was based on environmental justice precepts. And they had wonderful evidence of how many facilities were already in that area, how many tons of stuff was being put out into the atmosphere and the ground water. And one of the communities had to di – get ground wa – get water from Baton Rouge, because their ground – their aquifer was contaminated. And they were like 90% African American. And they were going to put one more facility in. And that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. So they filed an appropriate complaint under Title 5 of the Clean Air Act and also Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act. And the EPA stopped it and so Gentech had to move. The Governor said that this is war. You know, you’re stopping our corporations from coming in here. So they went before the Supreme Court of the state of Louisiana and got a measure passed where students who cannot work with communities unless they qualify at a certain monetary level. Like having, making $8000 a year. Now nobody does that. So, the Supreme Court is being challenged in Federal Court now. The case was dismissed. They’re appealing it to the 5th Circuit, which is, to me, a wanton act because the 5th Circuit is horrible. And hopefully they’ll get to the Supreme Court and the issue will get addressed. But yes, I fear, us, that happening to us. A couple years ago, our wonderful Attorney General, Morales, put a rider on a bill that nobody even knew about. And the rider said that anybody whose a Professor and sues state of Texas institutions will loose two years salary retroactive. Now, that was challenged by two Texas Tech Professors because they were helping work with different types of issues. They were community development and something else. And they challenged it in
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Federal Court and won. And so that rider was knocked out. But I don’t think anything is going to happen in this political season with the honeymoon that everyone is having with George Bush. And I noticed that he came out and said some very good things about socio – societal ills and his party and how they’ve always been in favor of big business. And I agree with him 100%. And I’ve heard Clarence Thomas say the same thing, so. I mean, Clarence is a friend of mine, and I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues. But I hope Governor Bush means what he’s saying. If he does he’s going to win a lot of friends from both African American and Hispanic groups…if he means it. But I don’t know. I hope he does.
DT: You said that sometimes you do worry about the TSU’s program being vulnerable. I think you mentioned once that an EPA grant that you had had slipped away. How did that happen?
0:18:36 – 2043
GH: Well, when I first came it was just me, and – and I was able to hire a paralegal, whose no longer here. And so we were challenging complaint modifications and writing letters and what-have-you. And the EPA gave us a larger grant. It was like close to $500,000 for two years. But that was supposed to be shared by us and Southern University. And I was going to help them develop an Environmental Justice Program. One of Southern’s alumni came back to the meeting, the first meeting we had about how to develop the program, and he suggested to them that if they did, they would be in the same boat as Tulane. Which already had been, this is like four years ago, had started getting flack from the Governor. So they just backed off. And part of the grant was rescinded, the part that was to – to go to them. And we had two years on ours, and it was my understanding that one of the refineries came to the EPA and challenged the fact that we were receiving money and litigating against them, and then went to Congress. And Congress threatened a fund cut off if we didn’t get our funds cut off. And we did and we’ve been struggling ever since. I did make some money from one of the toxic tort cases as a consultant and I put it into the clinic for two years. But, no mas. I don’t have it. I can’t do it and we’re struggling now.
DT: You mentioned about the roll of the legislature and Congress when industry needs a helping hand. What’s been your impression when you go to talk to the legislators about funding of a program?
0:20:38 – 2043
GH: Well, I haven’t really talked to any legislature – legislators about funding, because – but I have asked direction in seeking funding from agencies. And, oddly enough, Phil Graham was pretty good about telling us who to go to. I don’t know if he intended it but, it helped. And, so it’s, I really don’t go to legislators. It’s sort of like a word of mouth thing. If people like you they’re going to help you get funding. If they don’t, they’ll let you starve to death. And, like I told some people at an environmental justice conference, where they frequently bash lawyers. We’re a necessary evil. That’s it. I mean, when you get to the bottom line, if you can’t get what you want from administrative tribunals, you’re going to have to go into court.
DT: Speaking of lawyers, do you have any comments about the Defense Bar that you deal with?
0:21:48 – 2043
GH: Yes I do. I think in the past, I’d say, three years I’ve been really ashamed to be a lawyer. Because the defense lawyers are starting to conduct themselves in a – in a – rather than a adversarial way, it’s like war. And they don’t only try and attack the issues, they try and attack the person whose litigating against them. They conduct investigations. They try and dig up dirt on them. They try and upset the whole situation by getting to their clients. They withhold evidence. They buy experts. I mean, I could go on. And, to me, that’s subverting the justice system. And, unless we get a handle on it, it’s going to go completely amuck, if it hasn’t already. But, I just think that some of the major law firms are conducting themselves in a way that should not be tolerated. We have a case in Georgia, Brunswick, against two corporations. Two major law firms have been fighting endless battles against our clients. I mean, we had a guy go out, he wa – all he was was a non-testifying expert trying to find out whether we had a valid case so we could do due diligence. They went back to where he was in college, talked to his people who taught him, found out that he was an activists, you know, in undergrad, and that he did some demonstrations at Harvard. I mean, just all kinds of rotten stuff about him, trying to just discredit him as a person, not as an expert. That goes beyond the pale. And this has not happened on just one occasion. So, I, you know, I just think it’s atrocious.
DT: Can you talk about some of the allies that you’ve had? Have you gotten any help from the churches or from environmental groups, people that are maybe outside of your clients themselves, but folks who some how lend a hand with testimony or political support?
0:24:28 – 2043
GH: Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do that, because most people who are experts want money. And there are a lot of people we cannot help because of that. Because we don’t have the money to give them and they’re not willing to bet on the come. You know, and so, it’s very difficult to litigate cases without experts. The people can’t afford it. And yet, I think it would be a good deal for some of the scientists if they would allow their students to do a lot of the research and they do the testifying. I think it would help both the students and help them. I think there are a lot of studies that could be conducted on the – the people who are – who populate these communities, really good empirical studies that would help deal with synergistic effect of all these chemicals or the additive effects. There’s been almost no research done in that area. I mean, on example of an expert being bought was this woman that was at North Carolina State who had gotten press raves for doing research on pfiesteria which is that – that organism that regenerates itself when hog waste gets into the rivers. And it’s horrible. I mean, it causes fru – flu-like symptoms and affects the brain and the nervous system. It’s a – an amoeboid like organism, is my understanding. She had done phenomenal research on that. And now she’s the exact opposite of what she used to say, because she’s been bought out. And everybody knows it. So what happens is, the money that’s been put out there by these large corporations has bastardized the justice process. And it’s wrong.
DT: Can you go into that some more, about the role of money in getting environmental justice and regulation in general?
0:26:30 – 2043
GH: Well, yeah. I mean, corporations have a powerful lobby, both at the federal level and the state level. Citizens have no lobby what-so-ever. They think that because you elect somebody and they go to Congress, that they’re going to stand up for you. I mean, a lot of what’s happening in this country has to do with race. When you talk about being conservative, all of that has to do with race. I mean, because if you look at African Americans and Hispanics, they’re some of the most conservative people you want to meet. They’ve got to be, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. I mean you got to conserve money, you can’t eat everything you want, you can’t where everything you want. So what are you? You’re conservative. And that’s what conservative is supposed to mean; fiscal. But it gets into other areas. It gets into policing, it gets into this and into that. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about race. And when somebody says conservative, that’s a buzz word for saying, “I don’t like these other – these people that are different looking from me. And I’m going to vote against them because this – this – this political party supports what I believe in.” And that’s what the – the political – I mean, the
0:28:52 – 2043
religious right is all about. I mean it jumps on woman for wanting to have abortions. It jumps on mixed marriages. It ju – I mean, you just name it, it jumps on everything. There are, I mean, all kinds of issues that deal with this and – and evolve around this. But the main one is that the lobbyists put money with representatives that they think are going to vote their interests. A strange thing is happening now, though, because a lot of the corporations are being hurt by some of the rulings of the Supreme Court in dealing with whether states can be sued. So your going to see some strange bed-fellows in the future, I think. But a lot of it, the conservative bend that we have here in Texas, just like Harris County. There’s one judge who’s a Democrat in Harris County. One! Out of almost 300 judges, one. And you can’t tell me that there aren’t some qualified Democrats who ran, who were defeated because someone just, “willy-nilly” pulled the level for all the Republicans. And that’s what it’s all about. All these brown and black people, we’re going to control them. And that’s it. Instead of thinking about what the issues are, they’re thinking about race. And that’s wrong. It’s going to hurt everybody. Not just us, but them too.
DT: Can you talk about the difference between one side of the polling booth and the other, between the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of environmental work?
0:29:43 – 2043
GH: Well, I think the Democrats are more centrist now, because that what Bill Clinton was, he was a centrist. And one of the things that he did was, he enacted a Presidential Executive Order, 12898, which dealt with environmental justice. And it required all of the governmental agencies to make sure that they included environmental justice in the mix of the things that they were doing, no matter what they were. If he had been Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson, he might have had that Executive Order be – have the force and effect of law, but he didn’t. He came – came short of that. So when we went into court in New Orleans to challenge the EPA from doing their clean-up while these people stayed in their homes, the Justice Department was saying, “Your honor, this has no effect on us, it has no effect on this case, it’s just something that’s administrative within the government.” So that kind of fanfare looks good when you come to public and signings and all that, but if it doesn’t have the force and effect of law, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Now there are some Congressmen and Senators that are going to try and get a bill passed that will deal environmental kin – concerns on a federal level. But there were none before. There are none. Title 6 is an old Civil Rights Act that deals with everything. It’s almost like Congress, back in ’64, could foresee that all kinds of ills were going to happen no matter what agency it was under. And Title 6 covers that. The – there are a lot of people that are fighting it because of it, and trying to limit the – the – the reach of the act. But that’s the only federal act, as well as Title 8 and housing, that has any impact on the environment. Other than NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act], which deals with certain things, and Clean Air, Clean Water, those things just deal with environmental issues, they don’t have to go to health and – and the other worries that you have about Attention Deficit Disorder and things like that in children. I mean, there’s been studies and shown that a majority of the prisoners in our penitentiaries now have high blood lead levels. So, and there has been studies in Scandinavia that have found that high blood lead levels are associated with sociopathic behavior. I mean, all of these things need some kind of clearing-house so that people recognize this. Because most of the old housing stock in this country is occupied by African Americans, Hispanics, Vietnamese, and people who are just trying to climb the so-called social ladder. And, whose in prison the most? Us. So, some studies need to be done on these issues.
DT: You mentioned the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act and NEPA and for that matter Title 6 as well, that were developed almost 30 and more years ago. And it seems like back then environmental issues…
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GH: (talking over David) You know who that was developed by?
DT: Richard Nixon.
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GH: (talking over David) Yeah! He’s was the environmental President and he has gone down in infamy because he was – Watergate.
DT: Why has the environment gone from being something that was relatively nonpartisan, it seems to me, non-controversial, to being something that is just like a lightening rod issue that people run from?
0:33:48 – 2043
GH: Because the Republicans and the Democrats are like enemies. I mean they’re – it’s just like two football teams. There’s no compromise anymore. When – when we you had people like Everett Dirksen, Jacob Javits, [John] Stennis, who was a racist. All of these people, no matter what they were – what their capacities were, what they believed in, they were willing to compromise. There is no compromise anymore. It’s war. And until we get back to where there is compromise, it’s not going to happen. There could never have been a Civil Rights Act if there weren’t some Republicans who decided that it was the right thing to do. There could never have been an open – a Fair Housing Act if some Republicans hadn’t decided it was the right thing to do. There could never had been any of those environmental laws unless some Republicans decided it was the right thing to do. But now they march to tone of Trent Lot, or whoever is head of the – the repub – the rep – the House of Representatives. It’s a party line thing. And the Democrats are doing it because they have to save face. Buts – a lot of them are defecting too, because they want to be viewed as being conservative. So, it’s a mess. That’s what it is. And unless we as citizens start making our representatives do what we think they need to be doing, we’re going to go to hell in a hand-basket…or a chemical basket.
DT: How do you get the representatives to hear what you’re saying, whether you’re a nonprofit group or a ….
0:35:42 – 2043
GH: (talking over David) You get a bunch of people like LaNell [Anderson] and Reverend Malveaux and Howard and all of these people together and chew on them for a while. There needs, actually, all kidding aside, there needs to be a lobbying group for the citizens. And that’s what needs to happen. And even though it may not have much money, because it comes and talks as one voice to these representatives, they will know the impact of votes is behind it. And, I mean, you have that with the AARP. I mean, as an organization, it’s got a lot of money now. But when it first started it didn’t. And I think the same thing can happen with a citizens environmental lobbying group. Because these issues are starting to cut across the board. I mean, when we get t – in – in a months time we get two white citizens group coming to us to help them, that says something about what environmental issues are doing around the country. ‘Cause we get African American, Hispanic communities all the time. Whether it’s dealing with chickens, turkeys, pigs, chemicals, whatever it is, they’re the ones that have to deal with it.
DT: Can you talk about the White groups, Black and Hispanic groups that have approached you, do they come to you with different groups of problems?
0:37:15 – 2043
GH: Same kinds of problems. Same kinds of problems. But they do – and they don’t have money. Same problems. I mean, the lady that called me from Sea Brook. I could hear her voice over the phone, it sounded like she had a cold. And it’s from breathing those chemicals. I mean, they get the wind directed at them time and again. I went out to visit, I forgot the Reeds. There’s a mother and a – a son whose fighting being evicted from a ranch that they’re on out in – near Sugarland. And they’re right across from this part of Sugarland called Commonwealth. And we’re walking around the ranch and she’s telling me about this hydrogen sulfide that comes from this oil field over there. And we’d been there for about an hour, me a Juan. And I’m saying, “This woman’s crazy, I can’t smell anything”. Then all of the sudden, POW, I mean it, my eyes were running, my nose, I couldn’t breath, I was coughing. She said, “Yeah, you got it didn’t you?” It was just like – pf – it was there. And we had walked all over the oil field and everything and hadn’t smelled it. But it – it – it was there. And there was – there was some ladies who were there from Commonwealth and they said that it travels a half mile over to their homes. And these are like $500,000 and $1,000,000 homes. And these people want to sue, okay? So that’s what I’m saying. It’s starting to impact everybody. And I think that if somebody decides to cross the line in terms of race and de – and, you know, join hands, there will be an environmental organization and lobbying group and the voices will be heard at Congress and state levels. But until they are…
DT: It seems like African Americans and Hispanics and Whites share a lot of the same environmental concerns…
0:39:23 – 2043
GH: (talking over David) They do!
DT: But I’ve noticed, and this is just kind of…
0:39:27 – 2043
GH: (talking over David) But you keep them apart and they’re always fighting, your not going to see – you’re not going to come together.
DT: Well, maybe you could explain it to me. I’ll go to a Sierra Club meeting or an Audubon Society meeting or, or any number of other groups and it’s all white faces.
0:39:42 – 2043
GH: That’s right.
DT: Why is that?
0:39:43 – 2043
GH: Because the interests that they have deal with the birds, the fish and the flora and fauna. And that’s the perception that African Americans and Hispanics have about those organizations. Although the Sierra Club Legal Defense and Educational Fund has changed their name to Earth Justice, so that they can get some more money to do environmental justice things. That’s it. And I’ve been involved with the Environmental Defense Fund and the NRDC, in dealing with a transportation issue in Atlanta. We have conference calls almost every week. And I’ve had guys screaming at me telling me that Title 6 doesn’t mean what I say it does and if I want to file a Title 6 complaint then I’m committing malpractice. And I’ve been practicing 30 s – almost 30 years now, and some twerp is going to tell me something like this. And that’s because he wants to advance this beautiful clean air thing that he’s already got and it’s easy to do. But doing Title 6 is not easy. Well, if that’s not the case then it costs too much money to do it. We shouldn’t be looking at that. We don’t have enough money. Get the money, you know. So there’s a – there are problems between environmental groups and environmental justice groups. Some of them are starting to see the light. Others aren’t. Green Peace, I understand, is backing out of – of this environmental justice fight. But, you know, that – that’s the way it is.
DT: Do you do work with the Citizens Clearing House or Toxics in, where is it, Alexandria, Virginia?
0:41:32 – 2043
GH: What’s her name? Lois Gibbs? Yeah. Louis comes around and helps everybody that she can. I mean, she was at Agriculture Street when we had a meeting there to try and deal with the issues on the landfill dump. And yeah, there’s a lot of interfacing between her and – and a lot of other groups too. But Louis is different from – she’s different from the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society. She’s looking at health, the impact that these chemicals are having on people. She was in – what’s the name of the place up near Buffalo? Love Canal, that’s where she started. I mean, she started fighting that issue there. And, so she hasn’t given up. She’s a warrior.
DT: Maybe you could help me look at it from the other side, the sort of politics of the environment, within NAACP or the Urban Fund. How do they view environmental justice within African American politics? Is it an important issues or is it a marginal issue? What do they say?
0:42:44 – 2043
GH: No, it is – it’s gathered, or gained importance over the last several years. The Congressional Black Cacaos now has a brain trust that deals with environmental justice every time they meet. I participated in a Blacks in Government Conference Environmental Justice Symposium. The Urban League has had environmental justice symposiums, but they don’t do it on a yearly basis. They need to. The NAACP, when Benjamin Chavis, now Benjamin Mohammad was the head, had a Director of Environmental Justice. It no longer has that, but we work with a lot of NAACP organizations – I mean branches, to help them with their issues. And it – and I – in talking to the field – the Field Director for the NAACP last weekend, he has told me that he wants to work with us and talk to me about helping with some of those issues. Because a lot of the environmental justice groups are larger than the branches. And I think they understand that is an issue that these people care about. Like, for example, in South Carolina, Harold Mitchell, whose one of my favorite people, he’s a young guy, about 28 years old. He played football at University of Southern California. He was, he might be older than that – ‘cause, however old Deon Sanders is, he might be a few years younger than him – ‘cause they played football together. And he has these stories about Deon that are funnier than heck. And about how he harassed the coaches on the sidelines and talked to them, the whole game. And the coach would send someone in and try and sabotage him – but couldn’t do it. But anyway, Harold’s sister died as a result of chemical contamination. And they – she was like 22 years old. And he has devoted his
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life to try and correct the wrongs that are committed by corporations in South Carolina. He’s not making much money. His mom is helping him a lot. He’s got two children now. But every day he’s working on issues dealing with the – the fertilizer company that I was talking about, with dumps. And now, because they know that he’s a good worker, he’s gone to other communities in Charleston and other places. But his organization is larger than the NAACP in the state of South Carolina. And that’s happened in a two year period, because of Harold’s commitment to these issues. He’s very knowledgeable, he’s studied about them. I’m trying to encourage him to go to law school. But he’s too engrained in what he’s doing and he’s good at it.
DT: Can you guess why these environmental justice networks are growing so fast and what are the big challenges that are getting them energized?
0:46:11 – 2043
GH: They’re growing because they’re not just local, they’re all over the world. There’s going to be a meeting on December 8, in New Orleans, which is going to encompass international as well as national African American environmental justice groups. We have, like for example, Borden Chemicals in Geismar, Louisiana ships mercury to Thor Chemicals is South Africa. The people there are – have Minamata disease, which is something that came from Japan that has to do with neurological damage. And they can’t sue, because they don’t know who to sue. There already been suits by the workers by the courts in England, against Thor. And they recover a couple million dollars. Now that’s a huge recovery in England, but it’s nothing here. And you got thousands of people over there in that community who are suffering. And so, our idea was to communicate with one of these South African groups and file suit here. But they don’t trust us. I mean, there – this is something that I’ve found over the internet. I had an argument with a – a South African advocate. He was of East Indian decent. But it was like he was trying to control everything and eventually I got shut off. I don’t know how that happens, you know. We’re having an interchange and all of the sudden I don’t get anything, they cut me out. Whatever, you know. But we’re trying to build a coalition to deal with those issues. There have been issues in South America, Africa, Asia. One suit was filed here by banana workers, I think it was a subsidiary of Shell. Because Shell quit manufacturing this nematocide. Now nematode is a colorless little warm that just reeks havoc on bananas. It looks like a little colorless balloon if you saw it under a microscope. But there – there horrible. So the nematocide would kill the nematodes and the bananas would grow and thrive. But the people that worked on them had horrible episodes with sexual dysfunction, cancers, children being born with neurological defects and neural tube defects. All kinds of things. 20,000 people sued and ultimately it was settled for about 188 million dollars. That’s not a lot of money for 20,000 people, but, it would get some recovery for those people, because in South America and Africa that’s a
0:49:11 – 2043
lot of money. I mean, whatever they got that’s a lot of money. But the courts here in Houston were saying “forum non convenes”, and sending the suits back saying, “You can sue in your own jurisdiction and get recovery”. While we had – not we – but the lawyer who was doing the case had experts that would testify that it would take years, they’d not get much money, it couldn’t help them with their health, etc., etc. So there are going to be international groups forming.
DT: You mention international groups and issues. Is it sort of like environmental justice cases are being exported to countries that don’t have kind of political representation that we have here in the United States? Much like the facilities are exported to black and brown communities with less political power. Is it sort of a?….
0:50:11 – 2043
GH: (talking over David) Well, I think what’s happening is – and I think one of the movies, well it wasn’t a movie it was Nightline a year or so ago, when they showed Texaco in the jungles of South America, Ecuador. People would go and punch a hole in the ground and black ooze would bubble up from the ground because of the contamination of the pipelines in the jungle. And the vegetation was dead, the animals were dead. So they sued in federal court in New York and the court kept the case – against Texaco. So that’s one of the cases that’s finding it’s way through the court system now. And I expect that there will be others. Some of those are based on human rights issues as well as the Alien Torts Act, which is – which is an int – interesting arrow in the quiver of justice.
DT: A lot of people come to attorneys for justice. I’m curious if you ever suggest other routes to your clients, I mean like going to the media? Does that ever help?
0:51:17 – 2043
GH: Oh yeah.
DT: Can you give some examples where news papers or TV has helped and maybe other instances where they sort of turned a deaf ear?
0:51:28 – 2043
GH: Well one of them was Anniston, Alabama, that we spoke about before when I talked about the coffins. Another one is Harold’s group in South Carolina dealing with IMC, which is a fertilizer manufacturer. He’s got the – I mean, he’s the darling of the media. I mean, every time this company goes to the media and tries to get their ideas advanced, they come to Harold and he blows them out of the water. Or they call me and – and they hate what I have to say about issues because I always talk about environmental genocide, and they hate that.
DT: Can you explain what you mean by that?
0:52:12 – 2043
GH: Well, it – to me it’s – companies know, the governments know what effect these chemicals have on people. They know that they have some effect but they – they – they cast a blind eye to it or they deny it. And people keep dying and pe – keep being born without brains, smooth brainedness, no genitalia, all those things keep happening. And yet we are not focusing, the government nor the corporations are focusing on how to prevent it. So if you don’t do something about it it’s just like, to me like Auschwitz and the other facilities over there in Germany. There’s no better or worse.
DT: We’re coming down to the end of the tape and I was wondering if you might summarize what you think of some of the big challenges for environmental justice work in the future?
0:53:21 – 2043
GH: Well, I think probably the biggest challenge is going to be trying to educate the judiciary. Because I don’t think that federal judges really understand what environmental justice is all about. And that’s on both the state and federal levels. I think I had a – a judge in Odessa, Texas in the state court understand it better than a federal judge who’s been a really good civil rights proponent for years in Birmingham. Because I had an argument before the judge last week and I could just tell that he didn’t understand what I was talking about. Or his mind wouldn’t let him grasp it. It may have been because he didn’t read my brief, or anybody else’s for that matter. But, I think that’s one thing that need to happen. I think the another thing that need to happen is that corporations need to recognize that there is a problem. They may not have to admit that they’re doing it, but there’s a problem. So let’s see if we can’t correct it. Because, otherwise, if they keep the arrogant attitude that they have, it’s always going to be a fight. I think children have to be educated on environmental issues so they carry these things with them as they become adults. I think that will help. Those are a few of the things that I think can…
DT: Well, we enjoyed visiting with you…
0:54:55 – 2043
GH: (talking over David) Same here.
End of tape 2043
End of interview with Grover Hankins