Image Analysis-KP

Beyond the Bounds of Tolerance

February 23, 1968

There is an abundance of locations in America that experience environmental slavery. Environmental slavery is considered a race-based division of benefits and afflictions that normalizes the buildup of economic and social capital, regarding the environment. In addition, it is also defined as the imbalanced distribution of toxic pollution in minority based low-income communities as well as the devaluation of poverty-stricken communities. Memphis, Tennessee is a prime example of environmental slavery. Where people of color are stripped from their ecological benefits such as a healthy community and clean air. Instead, they struggle with a higher percentage of negative environmental factors which puts their health at risk and impairs their quality of life. Therefore, the image above is a direct representation of the environmental slavery in Memphis, Tennessee.

            When taking a glance at this political cartoon called “Beyond the Bounds of Tolerance,” it is not hard to instantly notice the man colored in black. The African American man is sitting on top of a trash can labeled “City Hall Sit-In.” Surrounding him is waste on the floor with a phrase taking up most of the background, “Threat of Anarchy.” This image was produced on February 23, 1968 in “The Commercial Appeal” newspaper informing Memphians about how far the strikers are willing to go to achieve their goal. This cartoon was made to bring fear to people in hopes that they would grant them what they were fighting for.  

            First and foremost, this cartoon signifies environmental slavery because it touches up on the subject of devaluation of minority low-income males through the figure of the black man sitting on top of the trash can. To go more into detail, the black man is meant to not only signify an African American but also a sanitation worker. This evidence is prominent when observing the color of his skin and his hat, which many garbage collectors worked with. Therefore, it is safe to say that he is a victim during the Memphis Sanitation Strike participating in the sit-in, fighting for a modest pay raise and recognition from the City Hall which just so happens to be the garbage can he is sitting on.

Next, you can pay close attention to the garbage surrounding the knocked down bin as well as the City Hall trash can. All of the surrounding trash as well as the squiggly lines taking up the background represent an awful smell and uneven amount of pollution which is a form of environmental slavery. Part of the fight for the sanitation workers was far more than just for work benefits, it was for equal race benefits and environmental benefits. Once this Strike and the protestors won their sit-in, it brought a lot more awareness to the injustices regarding race and the environmental downpour of toxic elements in low-income people of color communities. Specifically, it brought awareness to the toxic pollution roaming the air as early as 1940s by the Defense Depot in Memphis.

Last but not least, the final piece of evidence to prove that this political cartoon is of resemblance to environmental slavery is the words on the image and the title. The title of this piece, “Beyond the Bounds of Tolerance” explains how the workers are no longer going to take no for an answer even if that means becoming a violent threat, “threat of anarchy.” However, I understood this more in the sense that white people are living their best life with all their benefits and economic/social capital. However, there are people on the other side who aren’t having such a smooth sailing. African Americans who can’t tolerate their burdens due to inequality any longer and so they must fight to try and put an end to environmental slavery whether it’s peaceful or violent.

As you can see, the political cartoon covered the overlying description of ecological injustices through the sanitation worker on the City Hall trash can and the words displayed across the cartoon as well as the title. In addition, the garbage waste all around the floor with the awful smell all around the background went to show how polluted Memphis was and would continue to be. The Memphis Sanitation Strike ignited the environmental injustice movement, starting with the strike and leading to many other awareness’ on behalf of environmental slavery such as the Defense Depot in Memphis itself and in Warren County, North Carolina. Although awareness reached many other locations after the strike, it started in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee, being a prime example of environmental slavery.


Keywords: Race, African American, Community, Pollution, Toxic