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Roy Malveaux

INTERVIEWEE: Rev. Roy Malveaux (RM)
DATE: October 8, 1999
LOCATION: Beaumont, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Lacy Goldsmith and Robin Johnson
REEL: 2048

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

DT: My name is David Todd. And it is October 8th, 1999. And we have the good fortune of visiting with Reverend Roy Malveaux at the Shining Star Baptist Church in Beaumont, Texas. And we’re going to visit with the Reverend about his work on environmental protection and environmental justice and issues of faith and other things that he’s been interested and involved in over the years. And I wanted to thank the Reverend at this time for taking the time to visit with us.
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RM: You’re quite welcome.
DT: Reverend, can you tell me if there was anything in your childhood, the early days, that might have influenced your interest in these kinds of issues?
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RM: There’s nothing I could actually put my finger on to say that it lead me to either be interested in the environment or concerned about it. I do remember that when I was a child I used to work at a grocery market by the name of RJ Supermarket. And Mr. Satchatana(?) was a—a man that I used to deliver groceries for. And I used to smell this awful smell, sort of, in the evenings. And I asked him, “What is that smell?” And he asked me, “Don’t you know what it is?” And I said, “No”. And he said, “That’s the refinery”. And, that’s my earliest recall of ever knowing what a refinery was. I—I was living in the south end of Beaumont, which is now called the Charleton Pollard(?) Neighborhood. And as early as I can recall, that’s my first experience with knowing what a refinery was and I associated it with the smell as early as maybe 10, 11 years old.
DT: Did your parents, relatives work at the refinery or tell you anything about those places?
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RM: Well, hindsight has tought me now. My father was a laborer, a mason laborer and a cement finisher. At the time that he worked, he worked in the Mobil Refinery doing construction work and with the Houston Chemical. As I—as I said, he was a cement finisher in the construction crade, trade, excuse me, and so therefore he came in contact with—with some environmental pollution. I’m sure that, my father died at the age of 42, when I was about 15 year old. We never really got a chance to discuss what he may or may not have been in contact with. And he also was a sharecropper in Louisiana, which means he could have come in contact with a whole lot of pesticides. And I’m really not sure to what level or what degree. But I do know that he died early at—with the congestive heart failure. So, I’m sure he came in contact with it.
DT: Did you have any teachers or role models to you in your early days that might have gotten you to the work that you do now?
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RM: I had one teacher that left a remarkable impression upon me. As a matter of fact, he used to take me to school after my dad died to kind of keep me off the street. And I played music. His name was Mr. Willicie Cinette(?). And he told me, and this is probably the only thing that I could think of that had anything to do with conservation or the environment if you will, he told us, he often told us, what ever you’re going to be, be good at it. Even if you’re going to be a garbage collector. And see hindsight teaches me, that’s waste management. And so, Mr. Cinette also died. He died due to some complications that involves cancer. He was, I think he would—might have been 56 or 60 years. And he, and just, he just passed away about two years ago.
DT: And in the course of growing up and going to work, did any of the jobs you held give you contact to environmental issues, make you think about environmental problems?
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RM: It’s interesting, because many people have no awareness. They’re not environmentally aware. I, as a trade I’m—I’m a machinist. I was in the Navy for 13 years and I worked for the Department of Defense for 10 years. And I—I often came in contact with chemicals. I even machined some exotic metals that let off fumes when they came in contact with the cutting tools. And I often used acetone to machine magnesium or aluminums or many of the other exotic metals. And at that time I was not aware that I was really coming in contact with some toxic chemicals. It wasn’t that, so much, that got me involved in the—in the understanding my environment. It was a lot of things that lead to my awakening. And that’s, many people, right now, are working in the workplace around environmental pollutants and have no idea what the effects are to their bodies.
DT: How did you first get exposed to ideas about environmental issues?
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RM: My children were going to school at Crossley(?) Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas. And the way I got involved in understanding the environment I live in is one night they came home from school and said, “Daddy, the refinery blew up.” Of course, I said, “Yeah.” You know how parents are, “Yeah, Umhum.” “And daddy, they put us underneath the desk. It was fun.” Now I’m really listening. What is my child doing under the desk, underneath the desk? If the refinery is blowing up, that’s not the safest place to be. And I learned later this was called a Shelter In Place Program. And needless to say, it was a suicide in place program, actually, I started to listen very carefully after that. Because, I never saw anything in the newspaper. I didn’t see anything on television. It wasn’t two or three weeks later they came home and told me the same thing. And this time, it showed up on the news, the 10 o’clock news. And I was outraged. And so a group of—of concerned people got together to say, “You know, there’s something wrong with the fact that are children are putting—are being put in danger. And, we have to find out about it on the 10 o’clock news.” So we had a meeting at some local churches. And as a result of those meetings, we formed a group called People Against Contaminated Environments, which is PACE. And I am the state Executive Director of that group. There were a series of explosions and fires from ’94, I sorry, from ’89 all the way to ’94. And that led to me getting involved to the point where I had to read everything I could read. I had to educate myself. I had to find books. I read a book called, Dumping in Dixie. I got introduced to Mr., I think his name is Fred Millard(?), out of Washington D.C., a very knowledgeable man about environmental pollution. I just read everything I could get my hands on. And I interacted with other groups and went to seminars. And I was—I was really outraged at the things that I found out that I had no knowledge of. And I had never known that there was a group called TNRCC who were supposed to be protecting and serving. And after—after I got that initial shock, through my children, then I had to get busy. If I’m going to be the head of my family, as God provides that I am the head, if my family succeeds, they’re going to succeed through my knowledge of how to help them succeed in their environment. If they’re going to fail, it’s because I am going to fail them. And I know that I—I didn’t know enough about it. I had to—gotten introduced to the environment through Del Mar College. I have a degree in management.
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But it wasn’t anything that would have taken me to the extent knowledge that I had to—I had to find these things out. Later they had some more explosions and some more fires. And I noticed that my children, or my son used to come home all the time, his nose was bleeding. Always, in the middle of the night, he woke up coughing and choking on blood. And my little girl was eight years old. And she was starting to develop breasts at that age. And I was really upset. And I—I went to a psychologist by the name of Doctor George Kramer(?). And he filled me in about heavy metal contamination. So now I’m learning more and more and more and I’m—I’m starting to really get outraged. And several of the churches decided to have some meetings. And the—the strangest question came up. What does the church have to do with pollution? Why is the church getting involved in pollution? Why don’t the church save souls. And I have to tell them, “How can you save a soul if a man is dead already?” God is the God of the living and the dead. And Jesus was always concerned about the whole man. And no man can isolate himself from his environment. We are the products of everything we eat, and taste, and smell. And it goes straight to our nervous system. And after we fought that battle, I’m—I’m making the people understand that God gave Christian people, Godly people, dominion over all of their earth and over all of the resources. And we cannot, in good faith, sit back and watch somebody abuse the natural resources that God has given us to be stewards
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over, just to make a buck. And I—I see that as greed. Because there are certain things that you can do. And certain things that you ought not to do. Because of the amount of impact that it’s going to have on a person.
DT: You mentioned your meetings with some of your fellow ministers. And I was wondering if you could go more into the discussions you had about what the role of the church should be in environmental issues?
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RM: Well, we didn’t all agree, at first, that the church had a role to play in the environmental justice movement. And I never agreed with that because I believe the church has a—has a large role. As a matter of fact, the church ought to lead out. The reason for it is, and I have to go back to man’s isolation, the thing that the polluters would like us to think is that, my product never leaves my fence line. And that’s not so. Man is a product of everything of his past. I am a mixture of my ancestors. I’m not self-made. I’d like to think I am. But everything that I’ve ever come in contact with makes me who I am right now. That’s my past. But also, my present. I’d like to thing that I’m an independent thinker. But I’m a product also of inspiration and observation. And that’s what motivates me to be who I am. I’m a link in the chain. Unfortunately some people have made me a link in their food chain. And I don’t like that very much. Neither do I—I like that fact that my children have become a part of that food chain, that others have sacrificed so that somebody can live deliciously. There was a time when we could make a good living just making 50% profit. Now you have to have 3 or 4 hundred percent profit. And this is what most polluters are doing. They have the technology. They have all of the—the things that they need to be able to do certain things. But they would rather do it that way because it’s more profitable. So, why is the church involved? Because people, because of the people. Children can’t tell their parents where they want to live. There—here—here you have a single mother trying to make a living, have no place to live. So they make a house very affordable. And they build this house for money after having collected the taxes and put it back in an area that’s already burdened with pollution. And they make it very accessible to her. So she buys this house. Her child lives with her because you can’t tell. Children don’t have political influence. And so, we are a product of our past and our present. But we’re also a product of our future. If it would just stop there, it would be alright. But it’s not going to stop there. Everybody is influencing somebody. Unfortunately, politics and pollution go together. To me, the issue has already been solved. The Clean Air Act has already solved a lot of our problems with air emissions. The—the Clean Water Act has solved a lot of our problems. But the legislatures does things that opens up loopholes, that allows factories to keep on breaking these laws. If I broke a law, three times, you’re out. That’s criminality. That’s a repeated offender. But some environmental criminals break these laws three and four times a month. As a matter of fact, some of them have broken them
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three or four times a week. And they are never prosecuted. The reason I say that politics is tied to pollution is because we have a Governor that says he’s tough on crime. But he just means street crime. White-collar crime never enters the picture. As a matter of fact, he’s being supported by a lot of environmental criminals and I hope I’m not making anyone feel (un)comfortable by what I’m saying, but I just know that politics is tied to pollution. Or else it would be over. The neighborhoods that are overburdened with pollution, shouldn’t be there. If I had something that caused me a liability, I would either buy it or try to find a way to remove it. That’s just good business. And so the reason I say it’s tied to politics, the reason I know it’s tied to politics is because if we wanted to solve it, we could. America’s a great country. We have intelligent men all over the United States. There’s no reason why it should keep on going. I had to convince my clergy friends that this, in fact, was the problem. Then I had to convince them it was a religious problems also.
DT: Can you explain how you did that?
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RM: Well, I had to convince them that everybody that say, Lord, Lord, don’t really know Jesus. There are many people that say that I’m a Christian and I sit on the board of this bank or on the board of this, when actually they’re using the name of God to be profitable. If you and I call ourselves Christians, and I’m questioning your faith, I’m just merely making a point, our first loyalty goes to God and then our next loyalty goes to our neighbor. Well who is my neighbor? Every man is my neighbor. Because we’re all tied together. We don’t live an isolated life. We cannot live isolated from one another. And therefore, if I view you as my brother then I’m going to do all I can to keep from harming you. And if I don’t think that you are my brother then it doesn’t matter to me. And so I had to convince that we’re all brothers. We all have different opinions. I have to respect your opinions. I have to respect your doubts. We all walking, maybe, in different directions, but we all trying to go to the same goal. And those are the things I had to try to convince my United Methodist brothers and African Methodists and—and those that practices Catholicisms. And we all have to agree that it was the child that concerns us. That’s another generation. Because genetically speaking, if you continue to feed a child a medicine to calm his hyperactivity, which is Ritalin, there’s no—there’s no question about that. A lot of children are being fed chemicals just to keep them from being hyperactive. And a lot of that is in the sacrifice zone. A lot of people that live in close proximity, that’s—I call it the sacrifice zone. Because they’re being sacrificed for politics. They’re being sacrificed for federal grants. And all sorts of things are going on. And until the church recognizes their obligation to all people, all men, regardless of color, or regardless of political affiliation or religious affiliation, humanity is sacred. And we have to recognize that. Nothing good is going to happen in America until we get back to where we need to be. And that is recognizing the sanctity, not just of the woman, but of humanity as a whole. We’ve lost that somehow. Somehow or another we’ve lost the fact that—that human life is sacred. Children very seldom start being corrupt from the
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bottom up. It starts at the top. And—and when I’m talking about not being isolated from your future, most children are going to do what they see their parents do. If I come home one evening and—and I’m talking about I don’t care about these folks or I don’t care about that folk, that’s going to perpetuate something in my child. And maybe he’s going to take a gun and go shoot a bunch of people because they don’t matter. And so, I had to convince the religious clergymen that you can’t sit back and watch people living in close proximity to pollutants and say, they ought to move out. Because they don’t have the necessary resources to move out. And maybe they need your help.
DT: Can you tell about some of the reactions of some of the other ministers and deacons?
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RM: At first, there was a resistance to change. And, you know, and I’m going to—I’m going to interject, to help this analogy, on the issue of slavery. Everyone didn’t welcome abolishing slavery, because slavery was money. Slavery meant money for everybody. Everybody—and there were laws that backed it up to keep it in place. But slavery lasted so long ‘cause the church sat and watched it. And when the church could no longer tolerate slavery, then the church spoke out. Martin Luther King was the leader of that movement. But he wasn’t the only clergy in the ranks. There were many clergy that were Rabbis and the United Methodist Church. And that’s what needs to happen in this movement. When the church speaks out on the issue, it can’t help move. Everybody’s affiliated with some preacher. President Clinton goes to church. I’m told George Bush did. Has a pastor too. And, I’m told also he might be our next President, so I better watch what I say. Anyhow, at first they kind of rejected the idea. And—and I understood why. Many of their children worked for chemical plants and petrochemical plants in the industry and waste management and all sorts. And they—they give a lot of gifts to certain people and at one point provided some scholarships. And so, they were very reluctant to walk out on the issue. And—and then, another explosion happened. Yes. And I think that was the turning point. And I was somewhat glad. I had some mixed emotions. I was somewhat happy and joyful that they decided, you know, you’re right. They need to be held accountable. They can’t just keep doing this and saying nothing happened. But, after the—the joy of knowing they accepted the message as being a g—good message from the Christian standpoint. And then they nominated me…
DT: Reverend Malveaux, could you continue to talk about the formation of PACE and how you got selected to the position of Executive Director?
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RM: The formation of PACE was a result of a lot of explosions, spills and the fact that the—the community, which was called Refinery Row, because sixteen petrochemical surrounding that ref—that neighborhood, came about as a result of not being represented. The City Council would not hear the neighborhood’s cry for relief. And therefore, they thought the neighborhoods got together and form a group, and there were many other groups besides PACE, but PACE was the one that lead out the—the effort to get some relief from all of these explosions and hold these petrochemicals companies and refineries accountable for that behavior; and to get the city involved in working out some kind of—of a evacuation plan that never did come about.
DT: Can you describe some of the reactions of the local politicians to your requests that your community and PACE put to them?
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RM: As a matter of fact there were—there was great effort being exerted by Senator Carlos Truan’s office. As a matter of fact, there was a—a bill—senate bill. And the—the Mayor at that time was Mayor—Mayor Rose. And they were trying to push a bill through because we have com—we had done so many things to disrupt the flow of—of politics in Corpus Christi, that they said, “Well, you want out, we’re going to get you out. So, we’re going to activate eminent domain.” And the bill went to—to Austin. Senator Truan was lead to believe that this is what we wanted. PACE was instrumental in helping send an attorney and one of our—two our representatives up to meet Mr. Vic Hines, who was a representative for sister Carlos, I’m sorry, Senator Carlos Truan at the time. And told him, in no certain terms, that this is what we wanted. We do not want eminent domain. Eminent domain would put us out of our houses. And we wouldn’t be able to buy affordable housing to replace that. And so, Senator Carlos Truan worked
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with us very extensively. And when he found out that he was being bushwhacked, of course, he killed the bill. And so we were—we were very successful, not only on that level, but we were successful in filing a Civil Rights Complaint Title 6, which was supported by Sierra Club and GI Forum and NAACP and PACE and LULAC and the—and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. And so we—we worked well with federal—on the federal statutes, on the—on the federal level. We were successful in removing a whole tank farm out of our neighborhood. But we were not as suc—successful on the local level. The local level resisted. And in most cases, the sacrifice zones are still there because the local government resists the notion of removing people. At one point the Citgo Refinery wanted to buy a school and wanted to get the children out. And the Corpus Christi Independent School District, Mr. Albert Cerveda(?), decided that he would pull it off the tax roll so they didn’t have to buy it. And then he came back a week later and denied that he made the comment. After that happened, Citgo didn’t—Citgo Refinery didn’t want to participate. And I can’t blame them much. They have a business to run. They don’t have time to play. And those are the type of things. There’s the City Council for Corpus Christi, when the refinery decided, we are causing them a lot of discomfort and we’re going to be faced with probably a wrongful death law suit somewhere down the line, if we can’t control these explosions. And I think they—they formed a Council of Refineries, of some sort and decided they would buy out the neighborhood. Well, the City of Corpus Christi came with their hand out and say, “Well, you going to—if you’re going to relieve all these people out of these neighborhoods, you’re going to have to buy—pay us for the streets and gutters, because we’re going to lose our revenues.” And so that made it very uncomfortable them and once again they backed out. So local government is probably the problem. They—what they do is they zone these areas for commercial or light industry and then they close they streets off.
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They zone it. They allow industry to encroach upon. They give a tax break and lure them to the city. And after that, well, here’s the industry, hit with a lot of lawsuits. The refinery and petrochemical business is going to have explosions. They’re going to do those things because that’s the kind of business they’re in. Who’s taking care of the people. Politicians don’t want to loose their voting bloc. City don’t want to loose the tax revenues. And the refinery want tax abatements. All because these people are the sacrifice.
DT: What do you mean by the sacrifice or the sacrifice zone? Maybe you could talk about some of the health impacts or safety impacts.
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RM: One that—I call it the sacrifice zones is because they get federal funds from—from many programs. One of them is Texas Enterprise Zone. Texas Enterprise Zone says those people who live in close proximity to petrochemical plants and industry should get the majority, 25% of the jobs, the benefits and all that. If that was so, that area would be the best-looking area of the city. Because you have sixteen refinery or chemical plants in that area. But that’s not being done. They’re sacrificed. They—they—they tell the federal Government, this is a bad area, this is a blighted area, we can’t sell the houses, the taxes are low because the property values are low. But they take the money and they go somewhere else, on the other side of town. And they won’t let these people out, because the EPA, in most cases, have money, through federal relief, that will allow demolition of all of these homes and relocation, $25,000 for every family. But they don’t want those families to leave, because without that they can’t lure the industry. And industry can’t get a tax abatement if there’s nobody living there. Their politician wouldn’t have no voting bloc if there’s nobody there. And so these people are sacrificed so somebody can have a good voting block. They’re sacrificed so that the city can make some tax. The tax on the houses stay up, but the value go down. And it never changes. And the refinery gets tax abatements. They don’t have to pay taxes for 10 years. And what is the incentive? There’s a neighborhood there that needs this kind of money. They—they use everything from Weed and Seed. The Weed and Seed Program says that there has to be a high crime level. This is also part of the—the—the Weed and Seed and the Texas Enterprise Zone. But, the people get nothing. They’re just a sacrifice. They’re—they’re the incentive to get all this, and they get nothing at all.
DT: Have you seen any health impacts in your congregation down in Corpus or in your new group here, down in Beaumont?
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RM: In Corpus Christi, I lived in Corpus Christi for fourteen years and I lived in the neighborhood where my house was for about 10 of those fourteen years, close to it. At one time I saw, experienced, seven people dieing in the same neighborhood, on the same street, with the same illnesses. Maybe not so much the same type, but the same illnesses, from—from melanomas to leukemias, but they were cancer related. There was a young woman that stayed—lived about four houses down from me. She had just gotten her scholarship to Baylor. She was about 16, 17, maybe 18 years old. She had just graduated from Gordon Miller High School. She was going to Baylor on a track scholarship. She graduated in June. Before she could leave in August, she died of leukemia. Now, somebody would say, “Well, people don’t take care of themselves. They don’t have a physical.” Well, that’s—that’s true. You don’t have money, you don’t have a physical. When you don’t have money, you don’t have a family doctor, you don’t have insurance. “People need to take care of themselves and eat right.” Well, that’s true too. And most of the people that have those sorts of problems, economic problems, socioeconomic problems live in those sacrifice zones. So they don’t have a family doctor and they can’t tell exactly when they’re sick. And, but that’s not the type of illness that’s your ordinary doctor related illness. That’s something that’s created by something else. Nobody ever questioned why she just all of the sudden came up with leukemia and died. That’s just one instance. Reverend Harold T. Branch(?), he and his wife were good friends of mine. His wife has Alzheimer’s. In the—in the last three years it just started getting bad. And he never knew it. And neither did she. Now he’s not the Pastor of the St. John Baptist Church. He’s retired. He wouldn’t—he’s not what you might call poor, but he’s certainly not rich. John Thomas who was a coach at Solomon Cove. He and his wife both died of Alzheimer’s and some kind of Parkinson’s disease. Now I’m not a doctor so I can’t tell you exactly. But I can tell you this. This list goes on and on. I did a survey myself, a medical survey. I walked the streets. I was astounded at the amount of cancer in its various forms, diabetes, blood disorders, lupus, eye cataracts, amputated legs, people on dialysis, lost concentration. So I wrote to the Texas Health Department and asked for an epidemiology study. And I think the lady’s name was Betty Brown, at the time. She did the study, but they never would release the results. But I know they found exactly what I found. And so I ran across a study that was done by the Corpus Christi State University that said, in fact, that those tracks, in Refinery Row, was plagued with high rates of cancers that was associated with the—the industry in that area. So there was no doubt in my mind, after I—I ran across that study, and after I’d done my own study, that we were actually living in a sacrifice zone. And nobody really wanted to take responsibility for it.
DT: What did some of your parishioners think about these health problems that were showing up?
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RM: They got really stirred up. As a matter of fact there were three or four, maybe even five lawsuits. When—when you run out of remedies, when you taken all you can take, when you’ve told everything you can tell and everybody and you’ve run out of remedies, there’s nothing else you can do but go to court. And they want—they’re just waiting for that day in court. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll ever get it. Once again, pollution is tied to politics and all the politicians are not Senators and Congressmen. Some of them are judges. And so, I don’t really think they’ll ever get in court. Some of them are, quite a few of them have been relocated. Which means that they—the Coker Refinery, the Citgo Refinery—Citgo bought out a neighborhood, put up 25 million dollars and did a beautiful job, I might add; compassionate, I would say. But they had to do it outside the framework of the lawsuit. Because there’s another thing that happens after money enters the picture. You have lawyers on both sides of the issue. Now that money has entered the picture, people often think that when you say “environmental racism”, “Oh that’s a word you never use, you never use that word, we don’t use that word, that’s not right. We’re not racists.” But it happens on three different levels. It happens because they’re there, first of all, the industry’s there. You’re not going to go into business unless you can find a good location. A location where you’ll have the least resistance and it has supporting industry around it. And so they located there. Okay? People have no political influence. They have no power. So when the money start coming out, then it happens again. The distribution is somewhat distorted. There are three neighborhoods that were there: Donna Park(?), Oak Park and Hillcrest. Donna Park and Oak Park is being bought out. Hillcrest is still seeking. And I—I must add that Hillcrest in predominantly African American. The refinery attorneys are getting very rich. But on the other side, so is the plaintiff attorney. So you got another problem. It just is an ongoing thing. And I often think about what Jesus would say. And I often see that God tells us not to be a respecter of persons. I can’t understand why we can’t get that down. It’s so simple. If you and I are interrelating and you need something and I know you need it, and I tell you, “I’m going to pray for you brother.” What good is that going to do? You need food and I say, “Go home and I’m going to pray for you.” A starving man can’t pray, because his hunger will not allow him to concentrate on anything spiritually
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divine. And that’s what’s happening here. And I often think, why? But, you know, when there’s a crisis God has always got a—a man he’s molded. And there’s a man somewhere being molded today to bring the rest out. And I think I’ve done what I’m supposed to do. My mission has been completed. I informed and I educated them and I got them to where they needed to be. And somebody’s going to have to take them across the river. There’s a Joshua and a Moses in every one of us. Every one of us has to prepare. And then—then the other one has to take us on. And, the question is, who shall I send, says the Lord. There are not too many of us saying, “Here am I. Send me. I’ll go.” That’s what Refinery Row needs. That’s—the people—the Christian people need to step up to the plate, say, “Lord, you want someone to go in these sacrifice zone and bring these people out, here am I, send me, I’ll go.” But there’s nobody saying that.
DT: Are people talking about getting involved? Or are they busy? Why aren’t people stepping up to the plate?
0:40:03 – 2048
RM: There’s a great reluctance to become involved in—in the—the environmental justice movement as a whole. Especially because of petrochemical plants have a lot of money and they have a long reach. And sometimes…well, let me put it to you this way, I—I—I like to tell the story of David and Goliath. David was supposed to be home taking care of the father’s sheep. His brothers were on the fence line, let’s call it the fence line. Goliath was shouting out insult after insult, but nobody would move. Until David stepped up, nobody would say a word. And he told them, you know, you need to go back home, you ought to be taking care of the sheep, who sent you out here. So jealousy is one of the reasons. A lot of people are—are jealous. When a man does step up he—he gets ridiculed. But not only that, fear. Goliath was big. His spear was probably about nine feet. His shield was probably five or six feet. And so he—he was big. This industry has some deep pockets. They can reach deep. They can touch people and that gives people fear. People are afraid of that. And so, when—when you step out the first thing they going do is tell you that, “We’ll—we’ll get you.” You know, and they don’t tell you that straight on, they don’t. For instance, since I’ve been in this movement, I’ve gotten a lot of calls from funeral parlors. Yeah. Several since I’ve been here. We want to sell you a funeral plot. And I—I often tell them, “No thank you.” Because I’m not going to be in that body. That body going to the ground. And my spirit going to the Lord. And I’m not going to need a funeral plot. Yeah. And so, those are the type of things that intimidate you, for your job. I worked for the Department of Defense and while I was leading the Corpus Christi group, I got many calls from my supervisor telling me that I need to come to work and stay away from that kind of stuff that’s trouble. And so, a lot of people are afraid of the giant. But the story doesn’t stop there and I thank God it doesn’t. Because no matter how big the giant is, and no matter how much he roars, he can be beat. He can be beat. The best thing that I recollect is that the two—there are two men in any military battle that are stronger than anybody. That’s the Private, because he doesn’t have anything to loose. And the General because he has everything to loose. And those are the two dangerous—most dangerous men that you ever want to come in contact with. Well, I think I represent one of them, I’m not sure which. But I—I did face this giant and on many occasions I didn’t have any money. And I still don’t. I thank God I have what I have. And I thank God that there’s some—the Lord told me the other day that help was on the way. And I appreciate that. Because I do need it. But they will not rest until they have expended all that they can. And, you have to ask yourself a question. Why would an industry who have billions of dollars, make 25 million in profits a day, spend millions of dollars to fight a case when they can just remove the liability? Arrogance? Perhaps. Maybe not so. You can’t make it easy for people to sue you, so I can understand that business side. But that’s why people are not very accessible, especially Pastors. Pastor friends of mine tell me, “Man, I don’t know how you do it. You’re going to have to move three times. And you still haven’t gotten it through your head whose pulling the strings.” And I always tell ‘em, “God has the last word.” I might be lav—living—right now I’m living cave man experiences, dark times, that’s what it means. But no doubt, God is still going to have the last word. And I believe that with all my heart. There’s nothing that’s going to overcome. Because you just can’t overcome what’s right. They—they try. They crushed love one day at Calvary, they told me. But, he got up at all power. And that’s—that’s just what—the kind of faith that you need in this environmental movement. If you’re half fear, you don’t have faith. And if you have faith, you can’t have fear. Because they can’t reside in the same arena. And therefore, many people will not, they will not step out on it—on the environmental justice movement. Because they fear their economic resources. They fear the well being for their families. And they feel just threat of bodily harm.
DT: Can you talk about how your faith has helped you?
0:45:19 – 2048
RM: My faith has—has been the only thing that will keep me also from being overcome with fear. As you—as you recall, I told you, I was living in Corpus Christi. And therefore I was living maybe five blocks from the Citgo Refinery, from the Caplin(?) Refinery, from Hoechst Celanese, from the Coker Refinery asphalt. They were all in the neighborhood. And—and it was always a custom of some car to come by and just throw something in the yard. And I had to depend on God to protect me while me and my family slept. And I had some experience with being in the military. So sometimes my wife and I would kind of stagnate our sleeping patterns. And she would sleep during the day and I’d sleep at night. Or I’d sleep during the day, until the fear passed. It was about, I’d say 90 days and then I felt comfortable that God was going to take care of me. And I should have felt that all along. But, it made it very plain that I was walking on some territory that I shouldn’t be walking on. And at one point, one of the leader—neighborhood leaders in Corpus Christi came and asked me, and he didn’t say who, but he told me, “They want me to ask you, what is it going to take for you to leave this alone?” And I told him to go back and tell them, they don’t have enough money for me to sell out one child. And then after I went in the house I kind of shook my head and said, “Did I say that?” But, yes I did. And I mean it today. Had I not done that, I—I wouldn’t have been able to sleep with myself. Because somebody, every generation has to have somebody that’s willing to sacrifice to do the right thing. Rather than just be a—a sacrifice for somebody to live deliciously. And I feel like I’ve done the right thing.
DT: Can you talk about how it was you came to leave that community? I understand you moved three times.
0:47:32 – 2048
RM: Yeah. I did. I—I pastored the Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church and after leaving Pilgrim’s Rest I pastored the Mount Zion Baptist Church. Now Mount Zion was in between leaving Corpus Christi and coming here to Beaumont. And it was a mixture of things that lead me to leaving Corpus Christi. I had some difficulties on the job that were probably perpetuated by industry. And—and during that time I receive a call here in Beaumont to the Mount Zion Baptist Church. Needless to say, I—I left, jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Mount Zion was located adjacent to Mobil Refinery. And I don’t know why I didn’t understand that because I grew up in this—in this neighborhood. And I did not remember, I’d been gone 23, or maybe 24 years, and it never dawn on me that Mount Zion Baptist Church was, the Baptist Church was as close to Mobil as it was. And, as it turned out later, Mobil had a lot of influence in Mount Zion. And so therefore, I—I think the devil was trying to crush the ministry and the mission that God had decided that he wanted me to—to undertake. And one day I just happened to look out, and there was the refinery. And I said, “I can’t believe I came here. I can’t believe I did this.” And I prayed and I said, “Lord, you—you, am I doing what you want? Am I doing what’s right in the eyes of the Lord? Did you really send me?” And I had to question. And every man gets to the point where he question his—his call or his mission. And I was told that—you’re in the right place. Well, I pastored there for about three or four years, and we had a lot of explosions. And I just can’t seem to keep my mouth shut. And
0:49:27 – 2048
I ended up doing a lot of seminars and informing the people of what it is they’re surrounding and why they need to get involved. And as it turned out, after some investigation, Mobil had, had a close to 50 or 60 spills and fires and explosions. And nobody had said a word. The Board of Directors at the Mount Zion Church were Mobil employees and refineries. And one of the guys—deacons, told me, he says, “You know, every time you call the TNRCC behind Mobil, they call me to the office. Rev, why don’t you leave that alone?” And, I just kind of brushed it off and walked away. And it got to the point where the Board of Directors continued to just raise conflict because they thought that I had jeopardized their, either their job or their retirement. And so I—I asked the Lord, could I be relieved of duty. And he told me, yes. And so I—I discontinued, or fulfilled my ministry there. And—and I came here and the Lord allowed me to organize right here. And that’s how I got here at Shining Star.
DT: Can we talk about some of the opponents that you’ve had? It seems that you’ve had things thrown at your house in the evening and messengers from your opponents come. But have you ever had a one-on-one meeting with those who are concerned about what you are saying and are opposed to you?
0:51:15 – 2048
RM: Certainly. May—Mayor Rose, God bless her heart, she passed away, told me in no uncertain terms would the city ever relieve or relocate anybody out of Refinery Row. She was a strong supporter of the Valero(?) Refinery MTBE Program, and she got a cancer. What does that say? I’m not rally sure. But I know God always has the last word. I got the feeling, when I was in her office, I was summonsed to her office, and I knew her before she was the Mayor. I knew her when she ran for City Council, and we supported her. At the time I was the Vice President of the Ministerial Alliance. And so she was seeking our support and I came in contact with her at the Martin Luther King banquet in Corpus Christi. And for the duration of her City Council tenure, she did very well. But when she became Mayor and all of this spreaded up, she kind of sided with industry. And I—and the reason why we had a one-on-one talk was because she was a registered nurse and she knew exactly what these chemicals were doing to the human anatomy. And she basically just said, there was no way that she was going to—no way that she was going to do anything to make sure that the neighborhood would be relocated. And then there was Mayor Tom Utter(?). He was very disturbed that after—after the last explosion a civil rights complaint had been filed. They were—they were very disturbed with that. And he told me that it never would happen. And they were the, out of all the people I can think of, that’s probably been the most abrasive…those two.
DT: Have you had any people who were opposed to you or didn’t understand what you were saying, who changed their mind or had some sort of epiphany after a while?
0:53:36 – 2048
RM: Certainly. In this city, we had some seminars. And I talked to Councilman John Davis. And I talked to him about, maybe three or four weeks ago. And—and that’s one of the things that he told me. He said, “You know, at first, when I—when I talked to you, I didn’t quite understand what—what it is you were saying.” He say, “Now I’m kind of inclined to kind of believe that you know what you’re talking about.” And that’s the best I could get from that point, so. It’s—it hasn’t been easy to communicate a message that nobody’s willing to hear. But it’s always rewarding. And I—I’ve always been this way. And when I read the Bible, I—I—I look for what it does say. I don’t look for what it doesn’t say. I don’t look for questions. I’m looking for answers. And so, the Bible teaches me that in order to defeat your enemy, you have to make him your friend. And that’s the only way to defeat him. You don’t defeat your enemy by killing them. You only make other enemies. But if you make him your friend you’ve defeated hate, anger and all that goes along with it.
DT: Does your situation with Refinery Row, both in Corpus Christi and here, make you angry? I mean do you have personal emotions aside from your faith?
0:55:07 – 2048
RM: It ought to make you angry. It certainly should make you angry, when you know that… there are three types of ignorance. There’s an ignorance of neglect. People just neglect to be informed. Then there’s the ignorance, you just don’t read the fine print. But, of course, then there’s the third level of ignorance which turns out to be a lie. You know it’s the truth, but you just won’t accept it. No matter how much I say, if I tell you what the truth is and you tell me to prove it, and I give you the proof and you call it junk science, no matter what I tell you, you’re not going to accept it, because you want to live a lie. But, no matter whether you accept it or not, the truth is still going to be the truth. You can accept it or reject it. That doesn’t change it. It’s still going to be the truth
DT: You talked about junk science. Can you talk about the response of some of the experts, scientists, the medical authorities that you talked to about the problems in your congregation?
0:56:16 – 2048
RM: I—I—I visit the hospital all the time. A lot of—a lot of the people that I visit have kidney ailments. They have diabetes. They’re on dialysis. I have to ask—I have to ask the doctor, why are all these people having the same illnesses? What is the common factor that binds them together? And they say, poor diet. And, you know, that always come up. Not taking care of themselves. Eating and smoking and drinking the wrong things, or whatever. And I have to ask them, “Could it be that they all came from the same place? Have you ever thought about that?” And they dismiss that. And I know why. Because most of them have stock in dialysis. They have a stock in the company. They don’t fool—a man thinks that everybody doesn’t know a whole lot so he can—you have to know the answer to the question before you asked it. And so they have stock in dialysis firms. They have stock in medical firms. And—and—and all of the things, and so they are not so inclined to tell you the answer. They’ll tell you what they want you to hear. So therefore, they’re no—they’re not—and I know a doctor who’s also a lawyer, I think his name is Mr. Paul Lewis or John Lewis, out of Houston. I think he’s the only doctor that has ever said that, besides Mr. Marvin Legator, that pollution causes a lot of the ailments that people in these neighborhoods are suffering. And there are—there are other doctors, not in Texas but there are others in—in Pennsylvania who have written studies and University of Pennsylvania, University of California, that I have been privileged to read. But, when you ask them about this here, they’re not very inclined to got out on a limb and tell you that. And if you don’t know it, you’ll never get the answer.
DT: What do these experts say when they tell you that they don’t believe these problems and connections that you see?
0:58:27 – 2048
RM: Well, if you—if you name an expert, they’ll name an expert. If you bring a doctor, they’ll bring another doctor. If you bring a—an attorney, they’ll bring another attorney. If—if you have an attorney that has long accolades, they’ll bring one that’s have longer accolades. And it never stops. So it’s never solved. It’s—it’s just a battle of, I’m never going to believe you, no matter how much you tell me. That’s—that’s just the end of it. And so you have to—you just have to never give up, never. Don’t ever give up.
End of tape 2048
Interview continues in a joint discussion with Rev. Malveaux and Rev. Alfred Dominic)