Environmental Justice Award for Memphian Sue A. Williams

Such well-deserved recognition from the national Sierra Club for FfOR board member Sue A. Williams! Sue is the 2020 recipient of the national Sierra Club's prestigious Robert Bullard Award for Environmental Justice!

You’re one of the lucky ones, if Sue has taken you on an environmental tour of Shelby County. For years she has been involved in improving the environment we live in and has been a strong advocate for environmental justice for those who have traditionally lived and worked closest to the sources of pollution. She can tell you first hand about the factors that have played a role - misguided regulatory policy, unequal regulation enforcement, discriminatory siting, unequal political power….

For 29 years, Sue has been a dedicated and tenacious advocate for Environmental Justice (EJ) communities in Memphis, sometimes quietly in the background using her legal training to give wise guidance and sometimes out-front joining a protest at the gates of a haz-waste recycling plant in South Memphis or speaking at public hearings in opposition to a hazardous incinerator in North Memphis. 

In 1999, when the National Sierra Club received funding for five EJ Program offices around the country, Sue and now deceased, fellow Sierran Dick Mochow successfully wrote the local club’s grant application for an EJ Program office in Memphis. Next she served on the hiring committee for a director of the program. The establishment of the EJ program office sparked local and regional support for people-of-color and poor communities dealing with a myriad of issues such as dangerous air pollution from fence line industries, protecting neighborhoods from Superfund sites, closing down illegal barrel storage operations, and stopping a low-level nuclear waste incinerator. Sue served as volunteer co-lead for the Memphis EJ Program for three years, working intimately with the staff organizer and neighborhood leaders. In 2000, she was awarded the first Memphis EJ Award.

Educating and engaging with community members has always been a goal in Sue’s activism. In the early 2000s she supported the fight for clean air by assisting in planning a Bucket Brigade and air sampling training for the Douglass neighborhood in north Memphis, which is surrounded by eight polluting facilities. The training was successful and prepared the community to do their own air sampling and testing. Sue supported training Sierra Club and community members, and when the communities around hazardous facilities were encouraged to be prepared by taking the CERT Community Emergency Response Training Course, Sue was right there, learning with neighborhood members. She attended a Dismantling Racism weekend training (2012) in Marin County, CA, and an Organizing Training that was held in Memphis in 1998. Sue has served on the planning committee for Memphis’ longest running grassroots environmental conference series, with the most recent conference held in November 2019. 

A strong voice for the environment at all levels and in many capacities, Sue served on the state TN Sierra Club Environmental Justice Committee and as delegate and subsequently vice-chairman of the Gulf Coast Regional Conservation Committee. She sought change to the local billboard ordinance, which was successfully revised in 1998; she served as water quality chair in the Sierra Club Group and Chapter and as environmental chair with the local League of Women Voters. Sue has been a leader and strong advocate for a connected system of public parks and trails along the Mississippi River as a board member of both Chickasaw Bluff Conservancy and Friends for Our Riverfront.