Each April I am filled with memories of constructing science projects related water conservation, and of learning about the three R’s (how to reduce, reuse, and recycle). In the 5th grade I managed to start a small recycling club where we took old copy paper boxes and turned them into recycling bins for each classroom in our school. Why does April fill me with such nostalgia? Because in April we celebrate Earth Day.
First celebrated on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is marked by various events to demonstrate support for environmental protection. In the United States, support for Earth Day led to the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Environmental issues are extremely political and legislation is often tied to campaigns, reelections, and lobbying groups. One such highly contested environmental issue took place in a small Texas town near the border.
In February 1992 the state of Texas selected Sierra Blanca as the site of a low-level radioactive-waste depository. Many area citizens were critical of the sludge dump and of the proposed radioactive-waste facility, citing the potential health hazards. Jan Sanders, a local political and community activist, worked with organizations such as Peace Action, Texas Campaign for Global Security and Texas Nuclear Responsibility Network to oppose using Sierra Blanca as a site for nuclear waste. The fight took many years, twists, and turns but ultimately the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission ruled against issuing a permit for the waste dump in 1998.
Jan (Scurlock) Sanders was born on June 12, 1931 in Dallas, Texas. She attended Highland Park High school, graduated from the University of Texas in Austin and earned her Master’s degree from Southern Methodist University in TV, Film and Broadcast. She met her husband, Judge Barefoot Sanders, at the University of Texas. They married in 1952.
Her involvement with the community included participating in Camp Fire Girls, Northaven United Methodist Church, Campus Ministries Advisory Committee and the Greater Dallas Community of Churches, where Sanders worked on the Dismantling Racism team. She also served on various tasks forces such as Dallas Recycling and the Task Force for the
Evaluation of Medicaid in Texas. Jan served as the national co-chair of Peace Action, a large grassroots peace and justice organization, and as volunteer coordinator for the Dallas Peace Center. Her work focused on environmental issues, and nuclear disarmament. In 1994 she received the organization’s Peacemaker Award, and in 2012 the League of Women Voters of Dallas honored Jan’s work towards obtaining equal rights by awarding her the Susan B. Anthony Award.
The Jan Sanders papers are comprised of scrapbooks, photographs, correspondence, news clippings, campaign materials, reports, and more documenting her personal life and family, her work in politics, and her work in various peace initiatives.
Though I did not grow up to be an environmentalist, my day to day work does involve preservation and conservation. Instead of conserving water, I conserve documents and records of women who shaped society, culture, arts, business, social issues, law, and politics in Texas and the Southwest. Instead of preserving a plot of land from becoming a dump site, I help to preserve the stories and work of women who fought against it.
April 22, 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.