Black churchgoers, environmental activism, and the preservation of nature in Miami, Florida

Eileen M Smith, Florida International University


The goal of this project was to explore activism, attitudes, and imagery connecting Black churchgoers in Miami, Florida and the natural environment. The research approach was qualitative, began as exploratory research, and used the techniques of snowball sampling, participant observation, and semi-structured interviews. Three case studies representing various socio-economic levels, denominations, participant education levels, and environmental facets were chosen for in-depth ethnographic research. There are three major findings in the research. First, there is a link between the preservation of Black history and the preservation of the environment among Black churchgoers, who feel strong connections to a sense of place, rural life, and the past. However their work is strongly directed to bring about benefits for people and the environment in the present and the future. Second, public access to public lands is a basic and important right espoused by these Black churchgoing activists. Third, the vocabulary used by Black churchgoing activists regarding the natural environment differs from today's “mainstream” environmentalists. The concept of “beauty” is pivotal to Black appreciation of and activism toward the environment and is reminiscent of the early environmental protection movement in the United States and conservationists such as John Muir. These findings concerning how Black spirituality relates to the environment adds to the sparse literature on the subject, and provides for potential linkages between Blacks and “mainstream” environmental groups to benefit both parties. An understanding of the connections between Black spirituality and perceptions of the environment should facilitate the development of better programs to improve and protect the environment. Environmental projects may also address the social and economic needs of Black communities, churches, and congregations, as well as the ecosystem.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Environmental science|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Smith, Eileen M, "Black churchgoers, environmental activism, and the preservation of nature in Miami, Florida" (2003). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3126427.