On the Frontlines in a ‘Cancer Alley,’ Black Women Inspired by Faith Are Powering the Environmental Justice Movement

February 20, 2023

Source: Inside Climate News


ST. JAMES, La.—The brown brick Roman Catholic church that sits here near the Mississippi River, next to dozens of large oil storage tanks, rose in 1930 amid the sugar cane fields of a former plantation. Twenty-two years later, Sharon Lavigne was born and baptized within its pale blue plaster walls pierced by the light from bright stained glass windows.

Now 70, Lavigne steps into St. James Church on a late January morning, dipping her fingers into a vessel of holy water. She makes the sign of the cross, takes a seat in a pew and pauses for a silent prayer.

It’s in this church, in the industrial corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge known as Cancer Alley, that Lavigne found the strength and inspiration to take on multiple chemical plants, including a Taiwanese-based global plastics manufacturing company. 

“It was a calling from God,” said Lavigne, a retired special education teacher and grandmother of 12, of her decision to leave her comfort zone and fight the plants and the pollution they would emit into the air or water. “This wasn’t something I planned to do, or something that I wanted to do.”

Read more: On the frontlines in “Cancer Alley,” Black women inspired by faith are powering the environmental justice movement