Catherine Coleman Flowers

Catherine Coleman Flowers is an American environmental health researcher, writer and the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. She was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2020. Her first book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, explores the environmental justice movement in rural America.

Catherine Coleman Flowers
Catherine Coleman Flowers MacArthur Fellow Portrait 01.jpg
Flowers in 2020
Alma materCameron University
University of Nebraska at Kearney
Employer(s)The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice
Known forEnvironmental activism
AwardsMacArthur Fellow (2020)

Education and early careerEdit

Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama.[1][2] Lowndes County is riddled with crumbling infrastructure, which causes sewage spills in backyards and contaminated drinking water.[1] Flowers earned her bachelor's degree at Cameron University in 1986.[1] She started her professional life as a geography teacher and advocate for civil rights, and was appointed as the Executive Director of the National Voting Rights Museum.[3] As Flowers became more involved with activism, she took on different roles, including leading the NAACP Voter Empowerment Program. She eventually returned to academia, and joined the University of Nebraska at Kearney for a master's degree in history.[4]


In 2001, Flowers moved back to Alabama, where she concentrated on economic development as part of the Lowndes County Commission.[3] The population of Lowndes County is three-quarters Black.[5] By 2002, she had identified several failings of the local sanitation; including people being arrested for not paying for on-site septic systems and people who were paying for on-site sanitation not being provided adequate provisions.[3][5] Flowers was surprised that the government was targeting the poorest members of society rather than the much wealthier corporate polluters.[5] This experience motivated her to focus on environmental justice and climate.[5][6] She received federal approval from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to produce a plan to address raw sewage in Lowndes County.[7]

In 2011, Flowers worked with a UN Special Rapporteur to better understand poverty and its impacts on infrastructure in Lowndes County, Alabama.[1] Since 2015 Flowers has held a position as Senior Fellow at the Center for Earth Ethics. She spent 2017 as a Franklin Humanities Institute Practitioner in Residence at Duke University.[8] She founded the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in 2019.[9]

Flowers and the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute investigated how structural inequalities impact access to sanitation and clean water.[10] She identified that marginalised, poverty-stricken rural communities were more likely to suffer from contaminated water and poor sanitation.[11] Together, these permit the spread of intestinal parasitic infections, including hookworm.[1][12] In 2019, JoAnn Kamuf Ward and Flowers published, Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the United States, in which Flowers wrote, “In Lowndes County, Alabama, and many of the surrounding areas, lack of basic amenities that many Americans take for granted is a way of life,”.[12] The report made a series of recommendations, including taking steps to improve accountability, ensuring participation of affected communities in any decision-making, and ensuring access to adequate sanitation on the basis of equality.[12]

In 2019, she delivered expert testimony to the United States Congress in which she urged the government to address the diseases associated with poverty in the United States.[1][13] She was appointed to the Joe Biden Task Force on Climate Change, which is co-chaired by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.[14] Flowers is the only Black member of the task force.[14] In 2021 she was appointed a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.[15]

Awards and honorsEdit

  • 2004 Interreligious and International Peace Council's Crown of Peace Award for Exemplary Leadership in Reconciliation and Peacemaking[7]
  • 2016 Grist 50[16]
  • 2017 Women Who Shape the State[17]
  • 2020 River Rally River Hero[3]
  • 2020 The Jean and Leslie Douglas Pearl Award[18]
  • 2020 Studs and Ida Terkel Prize[19]
  • 2020 Greenmatters Black Climate Scientists and Scholars Changing the World[20]
  • 2020 Selected as a MacArthur Fellow[21][22][23]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • McKenna, Megan L.; McAtee, Shannon; Bryan, Patricia E.; Jeun, Rebecca; Ward, Tabitha; Kraus, Jacob; Bottazzi, Maria E.; Hotez, Peter J.; Flowers, Catherine C.; Mejia, Rojelio (2017-11-08). "Human Intestinal Parasite Burden and Poor Sanitation in Rural Alabama". The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 97 (5): 1623–1628. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.17-0396. ISSN 0002-9637. PMC 5817782. PMID 29016326.
  • Carrera, Jennifer S.; Flowers, Catherine Coleman (2018). "Sanitation Inequity and the Cumulative Effects of Racism in Colorblind Public Health Policies". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 941–966. doi:10.1111/ajes.12242. ISSN 1536-7150.
  • Coleman Flowers, Catherine; Kamuf Ward, JoAnn (2019). "How the Trump Administration's Efforts to Redefine Human Rights Threaten Economic, Social, and Racial Justice" (PDF). HRLR Online. 4.
  • Flowers, Catherine Coleman. (2020). Waste one woman's fight against America's dirty secret. Stevenson, Bryan., Recorded Books, Inc. New York: The New Press. ISBN 978-1-62097-609-8. OCLC 1159847838.


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Catherine Coleman Flowers - MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  2. ^ Noble, Barnes &. "Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret|Hardcover". Barnes & Noble. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  3. ^ a b c d "Catherine Coleman Flowers - Alabama Environmental Justice Advocate". River Network. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  4. ^ "Catherine Coleman Flowers to visit the Sierra Club, Montgomery Group". Sierra Club. 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  5. ^ a b c d "Q&A: An Environmental Justice Champion's Journey From Rural Alabama to Biden's Climate Task Force". InsideClimate News. 2020-07-10. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  6. ^ "The Accidental Environmentalist: Catherine Flowers". The MY HERO Project. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  7. ^ a b "Bloomberg Green Festival". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  8. ^ "Women Climate Champions Spotlight: Catherine Coleman Flowers". Climate Reality. 2017-06-27. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  9. ^ "Catherine Coleman Flowers". The New Press. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  10. ^ "Human Rights Institute". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  11. ^ "Researchers Find Hookworm Infection Linked to Extreme Poverty in Rural Alabama". Equal Justice Initiative. 2017-09-05. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  12. ^ a b c "Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the US | Institute for the Study of Human Rights". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  13. ^ Coleman Flowers, Catherine (2019-03-07). "Testimony of Catherine Coleman Flowers" (PDF). US Congress. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  14. ^ a b Roberts, David (2020-05-28). "Joe Biden has a chance to make history on climate change". Vox. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  15. ^ "White House Announces Environmental Justice Advisory Council Members". The White House. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  16. ^ "What's next for climate and racial justice? Four experts weigh in". Grist. 2020-09-17. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  17. ^ staff, AL com (2017-09-18). "Meet 2017's Women Who Shape the State". al. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  18. ^ "Cornell Douglas". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  19. ^ "We Need to Focus On People As Well". Earth Island Journal. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  20. ^ "The Black Climate Scientists and Scholars Changing the World". Green Matters. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  21. ^ "MacArthur Fellows Program — MacArthur Foundation". Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  22. ^ McCarthy, Ellen. "Proving good things can happen in 2020, the MacArthur Foundation names 21 new 'geniuses'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-10-06.
  23. ^ "Activists, scientists, authors among 'genius grant' fellows". MPR News. Retrieved 2020-10-06.