RISE St. James in Lousiana discovered the presence of a burial ground for slaves after reviewing emails and records from Formosa Plastics, whom they allege did not tell the local community about it despite discovering the graves 17 months ago.
The group said the emails and records were obtained from a public records request submitted to the Louisiana Division of Archeology during the past few weeks.
Activists alleged that despite Formosa Plastics engaging in public hearings, appearing repeatedly before the parish council, and undertaking an aggressive community outreach program that included participation at a Black History Month observance this year, the company remained silent about their discovery.
Among these documents were emails between representatives of Formosa Plastics and the Louisiana Division of Archeology. These emails show that Division of Archeology officials directed Formosa Plastics to investigate the site twice after Formosa Plastics’ original survey, and each time more graves were found. The emails also revealed that Formosa representatives have considered the possibility of removing remains if they are found on certain portions of the property because preserving them would be what the company called a “difficult option” for them.
“Our ancestors had no choice about where they lived, where they died, and where they were buried,” said Sharon Lavigne of RISE St. James, the local group that is leading the charge to protect the community from Formosa Plastics. “We are going to fight for the respect their resting places—and our community—deserve as we continue our fight to stop Formosa Plastics from being built at all. Governor John Bel Edwards should join us and protect our communities.”
“The past and the present come together on this site where there has been and continues to be severe injustice,” said Pam Spees, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “People in this community have been fighting for their lives for generations, and the struggle to honor their past and protect their future is pitted against a massive facility that only adds to the many petrochemical facilities that have encircled them.”
St. James’ residents are escalating their calls for Governor Edwards to halt the project. The governor was in St. James seeking African-American votes just days before the election in November.
The information about the graves is being submitted to the Department of Environmental Quality today as additional grounds to reject the pending air permits. St. James’ residents argue the air permits would violate their right to preserve their cultural origins guaranteed by the Louisiana Constitution.