Project Showcase: Ironbound Environmental Justice History and Resource Center

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protest march

Ironbound residents march up Ferry St. June 1, 1984, in opposition to the construction of a huge garbage incinerator in the neighborhood which would have emitted dioxin and other toxic chemicals. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation

Ironbound Community Corporation,  a non-profit community organization in Newark, New Jersey, which celebrates its 45th anniversary in 2014, began working on an archive in 2011, partnering with  the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. ICC’s unique environmental justice history, which gained it an early national reputation, is important to its city, state, and the country at large. Over the years, ICC has been the subject of inquiry from residents, organizers, and students of all ages throughout the US and even beyond.

From the beginning, those of us working at ICC knew that when we said ”archive,” we wanted something accessible, which would not just gather dust. A key partner has been the local branch of the Newark Public Library, which agreed to house the archive, help with the public access, and host special kick-off events for each part of the project. Each year ICC has added something new to the archive, and it now has three parts:

  • In 2011, ICC created an Ironbound Environmental Justice History and Resource Center which is located in the local (Van Buren Street) branch of the Newark Public Library. Using articles from Ironbound Voices, a tri-lingual community newspaper published by ICC from 1978 to 2001,  an oversize “scrapbook” was created.  This scrapbook acts as a “finding tool” for the archive, sorting some of the major topics of Ironbound’s environmental justice advocacy work over an approximately thirty-year period. The scrapbook index is then keyed to two file drawers which have additional documents (copies, not originals) for those who want more information. There are also several key books and newspaper collections referenced in the “scrapbook” and located in the file cabinet drawers. In addition to the printed material, people can view an introductory Power Point presentation which gives some background and a chronological summary of the advocacy work and which points out ways that people can currently be involved.
  • In 2012, ICC took VHS tapes which had been recorded during the same time period of 1978 to 2001 and transferred them to DVDs. A catalog and copies of the DVDs are located in the file cabinet and can be viewed by asking the librarian. In addition, several key DVDs were uploaded to YouTube.  As part of this project, several interviews were done with people who lived that history, and these interviews were added to the DVD collection and on YouTube.
girl with sign

A young participant in a 1994 Portugal Day Parade, as part of a protest against the construction of the garbage burner in Ironbound. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation

  • In 2013, ICC created a digital photo album called “Picturing Justice,” using photographs from the same period. An exhibit of photographs will hang in the library for a month, and a kick-off reception for the online album will take place on January 22, 2014, at 6 p.m. at the Van Buren Branch of the Newark Public Library.

It was never assumed that just creating the archive would be enough. For each of the components a tri-lingual promotional postcard was produced to be circulated throughout the neighborhood, and  outreach and publicity were also done at neighborhood meetings and special events. As ICC’s technological capacity increases, more promotion can be done.

Who has used the archive?

  • University students, especially those studying environmental justice (at Rutgers, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Princeton, and more)
  • PhD candidates, again focusing on environmental justice topics
  • People who are currently involved in environmental justice organizations or work
  • High school students studying history, science, and video production
  • Teachers teaching history, science, and video production
  • Public school personnel and parent liaisons
  • Local and state politicians
  • Neighborhood residents
people with banner

For 20 years, the Ironbound Committee Against Toxic Waste (ICATW) led the fight to clean up toxic sites and stop additional pollution. Here, ICATW participates in the 1990 Portugal Day Parade, a major festival in the community. Photo credit: Ironbound Community Corporation.

The ICC archive has been linked to two other places where people may be searching for information: the Newark Public Library Website and the Newark History Society’s recently-debuted Newark Archives Project. Ideas for building up and diversifying our users are dependent on funders and available staff time (which are at the moment beyond us).  But in the future we hope to include more outreach, more media exposure, and the development of curriculum for students from local schools.


Here are some reactions from users:

  • This exhibit truly captures the community advocacy and everlasting battle for human health, something everyone has a fundamental right to.
  • The film clips brought me to tears…I am a teacher and I am looking forward to bringing my students to see the archive.
  • I have found a gold mine in this exhibit! I’m currently a student…writing my senior thesis on the environmental justice movement  in Newark.
  • It has inspired me, and I hope it continues to inspire others.

This last quote is the reaction which ICC hopes for and why we will continue to pursue this effort, so that future generations can hear and learn from these stories.

~ Nancy Zak is a community organizer, outreach director for ICC, resident of the Ironbound, and supervisor of the ICC environmental justice archive project.

  1. Mary Rizzo says:

    I’m so delighted to read this piece! I was Associate Director of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities when we funded this important archiving project. The ICC has been at the forefront of environmental justice work in the nation and NJ. Making its records accessible helps us tell new stories about the history of this modern social justice movement.

  2. Nancy Zak says:

    Tonight’s opening is postponed till Feb. 5 because of the bad weather. All are invited: Van Buren St. Library
    Newark, NJ @ 6 PM.

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