Work In ProgressDocumentary
Mossville: A Story of Life and Death
by Frank Dexter Brown
EarthAfrica News Service
Following are images and excerpts from Frank Dexter Brown's
cyber documentary on the historic Black town of Mossville, La.,
destroyed by chemical contamination. The complete documentary can
be seen this month at http://www.talkback2000.com.
For years, fears had been building of flares that lit up the night,
of tremors that shook homes; of ever-present smells lingering outside
doors and seeping into housesthrough walls, floorboards and
Trains rumbled by, swaying with unknown, deadly chemical fluids.
Spills of contaminants occasionally resulted in evacuations; in
television and radio alerts and shrill plant sirens that warned
everyone to stay indoors. But now, few are left to worry about such
things in Mossville, La.
This is a story of industry encroaching on an 130-year-old African
American enclavetaking over slowly, contaminating the land,
forcing people out and destroying health, even causing death, some
say. This is a story repeated throughout the state in other small,
Black towns, most of which date back to the end of African enslavementSunrise,
Reveilletown, Morrisonville, Cut Off…
But what is distinct about the case of Mossville is that, unlike
many other severe pollution cases of African American communities
in the country, this one has resulted in a multi-million dollar
settlement for the water and land contamination. Few of the people
living in that contaminated zone, however, have received significant
compensation. Instead the attorneys have earned multi-million dollar
fees and the polluters have received protection from later suits
regarding the community's health…
These are voices from Mossville, a small, historic African American
community of about 600 peoplean area of mass dislocation and
dangerous contamination that is quickly becoming a ghost town…
Whitney Harris, professor, historian and college administrator,
Lake Charles, Louisiana.
What you're doing is foreclosing on a whole generation of rootedness.
I'm convinced that the powers that be knew, were aware of what they
were doing, where they were doing it and made a choice to do it,
because they saw the other alternative as much too expensive. And
African Americans as a group have a history of being more tolerant,
of being pushed around. If that same thing was happening with, say,
a nearby predominately white community called Moss Bluff, it would
be civil war.
Debra Ramirez, a mother of three, environmental and social activist
driven to fight for her community because of industrial destruction
of the land on which her family has lived for almost 130 years.
Ramirez and her mother.
Mossvilleit was worse than a Third World. Sewage in the ditch,
sewage all over the roads, feces all in the water where it
had rained and it had flooded. Children walking in that, having
to be subjected to walking through it in the streets and riding
their bikes through it, playing in it. Even during the ice storm,
we saw a man take a dip of pot of water out of the ditch right next
to the contaminated ditch where he lived on VCM Plant Road. And
I cried. Because I looked at this community and remembered how it
used to look: beautiful green grass and tall pine trees and oak
trees and tallow trees. And now all I see are dead pine trees and
dead oak trees and housestorn down like people abused their
homesand wouldn't fix them up or something. And I know that
wasn't the case because I have been in and out of many of those
Stacy Ryan, a young man suffering from a number of health ailments
that he and his family believe can be traced to industrial pollution.
Healthwise it's all the little aches and pains. Like in my head,
sharp pinpoint pain. It's not like a normal headache; it really
hurts. Pinpoint pain like in my chest, in my throat, in my sinus.
Little-bitty things. Pinpoint pain in the legs. Like someone taking
an ice pick and picking a certain part of your body out.
its all the little rashes and bites. It looks like an ant bit you,
but when you look at it real closely there's holes all through your
skin. You can see straight through to your muscle almost. Little-bitty
Like I say, I don't go out.
I might read
a Bible in my room, but I don't go out. I don't even go to my church
anymore because I don't want to go in public with all these rashes.
It's really, really embarrassing. When I do go out, it's at night,
when there's hardly anybody out there. No sun beaming down, it's
cooler. I wear a hood to cover my head because on my head there's
spots where hair is just falling out. Just normal things like sitting
here in this chair are very, very hard. Like my back is itching
like crazy. But if I scratch it, it'll burn. It's just something
you get used to. Some days it's worse than others."
Diane Prince, a mother of three, suffers from cancer of the
uterus. She moved to the area in the late 70's to escape the harshness
of the urban Northeastern for a quieter lifestyle of the rural south.
So this is what happens with people with a terminal illness. You
have to plan; you have to do things. And this is what these people
have done to me. They've taken this life I had, this world of giving
that I had to give to my daughters. I have molded these kids into
good, productive human beings, responsible people. And it wasn't
very easy. But I did it. And I don't feel as if I'll be able to
reap the benefits of being able to see my grandchildren because--and
I'm not afraid to say it anymoreI know [industry] gave me
cancer. I know that. And what makes me so angry is that they're
not responsible, they're not responsible to pay for what they've
done to me. And for what they've taken away from my children, and
from my husband. I'm angry. But all that, all that stress that they've
put us under, all the duress makes us function, makes us stronger.
And we are not going to give in to them. We're just not going to
give in to them. Under these present conditions we're under, they
will not get a stitch of this property. .They will not. They will
not get it."
Jackson and Van.
Erica Jackson, a mother suffering severe health ailments.
"Me myself, I have a deformation in my face. I've been to the doctor;
they don't know what it is. They don't know what caused it. I think
it is because of the water that I drink here, and the air that I
smell here. I think they did this to me. (cries more deeply) I can't
walk. I can't close my eye. My eye dries out all the time. I have
chest pains. I can't breath too good. And I was a happy woman. I
didn't have all these problems. Believe me, I acquired this.
at me, the money that they give me was not enough for my health
I think they gave us that water money to shut us up. To keep
us quiet, okay. And if we didn't take the little bit that they gave
us, we got nothing. We had no choices in this matter.
Haki Vincent, whose family dates to the original settlers:
The plants are like some big monster killing machine, it's horrible.
Iron and concrete is all you see, like prisons. It looks like death,
like they're manufacturing death there because you see nothing but
pollution and smoke coming from everywhere. To me the term plant
is short for plantation.
-- April 9, 2001
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