Hazel Johnson

It's Like Living in Hell

Hazel Johnson, her husband John, and their seven children lived in the Altgeld Gardens public housing project on Chicago’s South Side. Their homelife was shattered by John’s death in 1969 from lung cancer at 41 years old. Johnson’s children, as well as neighbors, suffered from a variety of illnesses that made her suspect the factories surrounding their home were endangering their health.

After conducting her own research, Johnson discovered that not only was Altgeld Gardens built on a toxic industrial waste dump and surrounded by 50 landfills (as she called it the “toxic doughnut”), but that political leaders refused to intervene on behalf of low-income Black families anywhere in the city. Johnson founded the People for Community Recovery (PCR) initially to address tenant issues but pivoted after discovering that her community had the highest cancer rates in the region. She organized her neighbors against polluting companies and the Chicago Housing Authority, which resulted in key victories, such as a new health clinic, asbestos removal, a moratorium on new or expanded landfills in Chicago, and extending water and sewage service. Johnson mentored young activists, including her daughter Cheryl, who now serves as PCR’s executive director, and President Barack Obama.


Object label:

Certificate and Award

A certificate and award earned by Hazel Johnson from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chicago Audubon Society for her environmental justice work.

Courtesy of People for Community Recovery

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