Despite the Memphis sun heating Alonzo Weaver Park to about 96 degrees Saturday afternoon, about 50 South Memphis community members and local leaders gathered to celebrate the anniversary of a win that helped keep a crude oil pipeline out of Boxtown.
A year after Plains All American Pipeline and Valero Energy Corp. abandoned the controversial Byhalia Connection Pipeline, Memphis residents joined with barbecue, songs and snow cones to remember how their persistence fought away the project.
“These victories don’t happen often,” said Justin J. Pearson, president of Memphis Community Against Pollution, formerly known as Memphis Community Against the Pipeline.
“It’s important we take a moment to celebrate the victory that we, as a community, galvanized and accomplished. Today we’re celebrating while also recognizing the reality — that environmental justice and environmental racism continued to plague Memphis, and continued to plague a lot of places that have Black, Indigenous communities of color and poor folks around the country.”
Memphis Community Against Pollution led the anniversary celebration with local leaders and community members speaking including Boxtown property owners Scottie Fitzgerald and Clyde Robinson, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Amanda Garcia and Protect Our Aquifer Executive Director Sarah Houston.
Local political faces also stood in the park for the anniversary including Shelby County District Attorney candidate Steve Mulroy and District 86 State Rep. Barbara Cooper.
Children’s laughs could be heard at the park as those who fought against the pipeline reunited and mingled. Pearson walked around embracing all those who attended and reminded everyone that the fight is not over.
“We’re not quitting in our fight,” he said. “We won one big battle and we still have a lot and a long way to go still. We want to make sure that we use the power that we have built to continue to push for change that has to happen in Memphis and this community.”
The connection would have put a crude oil pipeline through mostly Black South Memphis neighborhoods and raised concerns over polluting the area’s drinking water from the Memphis Sand aquifer.
Members of Protect Our Aquifer joined in on the celebration Saturday under a white tent with yard signs posted and pamphlets and information cards on the water source laid out at tables.
Houston said the event stood for celebration and reflection on the collaborative effort to stop the pipeline.
“The pipeline chapter didn’t end last year on July 2,” she said. “It really took a whole community and a lot of solidarity. Our aquifer is being threatened by pollution every single day. … The aquifer’s been neglected for so long, the issues are not going to be fixed in a couple years.”
She said to ensure the aquifer continues to provide drinking water to Memphis, the community must keep up efforts and follow organizations including Protect Our Aquifer and Memphis Community Against Pollution, even when they do not make headlines.
The roughly 50-mile pipeline would have started at the South Memphis Valero refinery on West Mallory Avenue and traveled south across the Mississippi state line, then to the east before ending in Marshall County, Mississippi.
It would have connected two existing crude oil pipelines.
The grassroot organization Memphis Community Against Pollution headed the fight against the project with demonstrations and petitions.
Celebrities including Al Gore, Danny Glover and Jane Fonda also voiced opposition to the pipeline. In 2021, former U.S. Vice President Gore called the project “a reckless, racist rip-off.”
Dima Amro covers the suburbs for The Commercial Appeal and can be reached at Dima.Amro@commercialappeal.com or on Twitter @AmroDima.
Read More: Memphis community celebrates anniversary of oil pipeline cancellation