Nashville Environmental Justice Resources


On August 19, 2020, the Nashville Sustainability Roundtable held a special edition virtual event on the subject of Environmental Justice. Guest speakers Chandra Taylor and Amanda Garcia from the Southern Environmental Law Center shared their stories of litigating issues of environmental racism in North Carolina and Tennessee, respectively.

If you are interested in teaching your organization or community about environmental justice and the history of environmental racism in Nashville, please contact nicole@urbangreenlab.org to schedule a virtual webinar now!


Below is a compilation of resources for further learning on the subject of environmental justice, especially as it relates to Nashville.

Nashville Environmental Justice Initiative

Urban Green Lab and Tennessee State University (TSU) have partnered to create the Nashville Environmental Justice Initiative (NEJI). Beginning in the Fall of 2020, TSU will lead a study to map the need for environmental justice education in the city of Nashville.

Urban Green Lab and TSU hope the new initiative will shed light on Nashville’s social determinants of health, the legal frameworks of development, and green business planning, and how a culture of learning about environmental justice can reinforce the city’s long-term social equity goals found in NashvilleNext, the Solid Waste Master Plan, and Mayor Cooper’s future Climate Action Plan. Contact patrick@urbangreenlab.org with any questions.

Examples of Environmental Racism in Nashville

Black Bottom

Map of Nashville’s Black Bottom Neighborhood, present-day ‘SoBro’ neighborhood.
Photo is public domain.

Nashville’s Black Bottom neighborhood existed in what is now known as “SoBro” from 1832 up until the Great Depression era. Black Bottom was a culturally rich area and in 1880, Nashville’s population was 40% Black.

Further Reading:


North Nashville’s Fight Over I-40

The Ritz Theater, located across from Fisk University, was open from 1937-1969 when the construction of I-40 forced it to close.
Photo from Cinema Treasures.

Though I-40 was originally slated to be built near Vanderbilt University, plans quickly changed to cut right through a cultural epicenter for Nashville’s Black community. In the late 1960s, A citizen-led group fought against the location of this construction but ultimately lost after a battle at the US Supreme Court. Within one year of construction, homes in the area had lost 30% of their value and never recovered. Dozens of businesses were closed forever.

Further Reading:


James A. Cayce Homes Air Quality Findings

Photo from WPLN.

The James A. Cayce Homes public housing community has among the highest rates of asthma is all of Davidson County. Indoor and outdoor pollutants contribute to this human health crisis including highway emissions from I-24 with no protection and prevalent mold in the homes.

Further Learning:


Bordeaux Community

Photo from Nashville Scene.

The Bordeaux community has been a victim of environmental racism repeatedly over the past several decades. Most notably, the Bordeaux Landfill was built inside of one of Nashville’s most prominent Black communities. The community continues to battle to create a safe and healthy environment in their neighborhood.

Further Reading:


Dickson County Families Poisoned by Landfill Leachate

Sheila Holt-Orsted dedicated more than a decade of her life fighting for justice for her community, 25 miles west of Nashville. Several of her family members and others in the community were suffering from serious health problems including cancer, which caused her to question if the landfill 57 feet away from the Holt family property was a contributing factor. The property’s well water was tested to have 148 times higher than the safe amount of TCE, the 15th most toxic chemical in the world. Additionally, it was found that white residents in her community were warned of the toxicity of the well water 8 years prior and nothing was said to the Black residents. This situation became known as the “Poster Child” for environmental racism.

Further reading:


Additional Resources

This section will be periodically updated.

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