Broken Ground Podcast Launches New Season: How Memphians Defeated a Pipeline
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.— Today the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) launched the latest season of its popular podcast Broken Ground. The new season digs into the story of how a Black community in southwest Memphis and its allies came together, beat the odds, and defeated a crude oil pipeline.
This season, Broken Ground heads to Boxtown, Tennessee, a Black neighborhood tucked in a bend of the Mississippi River with a rich history, whose residents cherish their deep ties to the land. Here, neighbors brought together people young and old, and hailing from all corners of the city and beyond, to fight the environmental injustices and threats to their quality of life posed by the controversial Byhalia Pipeline. The proposed 49-mile project would have cut through Black neighborhoods in southwest Memphis, including Boxtown, to transport crude oil for export and crossed over the city’s drinking water source in the process. Project proponents described this route as the “point of least resistance.”
“To say these powerful companies underestimated the power of people is an understatement—they could not have been more wrong,” said Amanda Garcia, SELC’s Director of the Tennessee Office. “As a fellow Tennessean, it was amazing to witness the strength of community to achieve a monumental win for environmental justice in the South.”
In the fifth season of the podcast, we turn the microphone over to hear first-hand accounts of how a small group of concerned neighbors brought together a coalition strong enough to force two major oil companies, who’d already started legal proceedings to take their land, to pull the plug on their pipeline project. The season release coincides with the one-year anniversary of the cancellation announcement on July 2, 2021.
Environmental journalist and educator Leanna First-Arai hosts the new season, joining longtime Broken Ground team member and new Executive Producer Emily Richardson-Lorente. While living in Memphis, First-Arai reported and wrote some of the earliest stories on the Byhalia Pipeline. The crude oil project initially caught her attention when, at an early public meeting hosted by the pipeline developers, opposition from concerned residents was met with the recommendation that they resign themselves to the fact it was coming.
Instead, southwest Memphis residents and many others pushed back, asking why an area already bearing the brunt of intense industrial pollution should welcome yet another harmful project. Through their stories, this season of Broken Ground shines a light on the people who were the powerful catalysts for an environmental justice victory that defied the odds.
“I hope everyone listening to the incredible story being told this season on Broken Ground can take away inspiration and remember that, by working together, we can create real change to stop environmental injustices across the South and beyond,” said Chandra Taylor-Sawyer, SELC’s Leader of the Environmental Justice Initiative.
Broken Ground now contains five seasons for listeners to stream. Each episode of the podcast focuses on sharing the environmental stories and voices in the South that don’t often get the attention they deserve. From leaders of the environmental justice movement to Southerners along the coast navigating sea level rise and higher tides, previous seasons provide a powerful perspective on the ways environmental destruction collides with underlying inequities and the solutions Southerners are seeking.