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Scrapbook: In Memory of Ernestine Carpenter

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

May 28, 2010

In Memory of Ernestine Carpenter

Ernestine-Carpenter
Photo by Rita Harris

Ernestine Carpenter, an environmental justice activist in Memphis, Tennessee, died on Sunday, May 23. She was 71. Carpenter, who lived along the Mississippi River in the French Fort community for many years, served on the Sierra Club's Chickasaw Group Executive Committee as treasurer for one term of office.

"For years Ernestine has been up-front, speaking out and leading at public meetings, conferences, and community events," says Memphis Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer Rita Harris. "She was featured in the Memphis EJ program's locally-produced video Air Pollution: Communities at Risk. So that piece of her we will always have with us here."

Carpenter was a leader at several of the Club's annual conference plenary sessions, and she was a well-known local NAACP board member, respected for her readiness to tackle problems while always maintaining a calm and dignified demeanor.

"Much of Ernestine's environmental activism was centered around air pollution issues," says Harris. "I remember her as a calming force in the final hours before the final vote to defeat a nuclear waste incinerator near her community and downtown Memphis. 

Many in the community knew her as a former teacher and principal at Carver High School. She also devoted enormous time and energy for more than 20 years to her high-profile political role as District 86 Chair for Tennessee State Representative Barbara Cooper.

After her retirement from the Memphis Public Schools, she returned to work as an instructor at Southwest Community College and juggled that with various community responsibilities, including tutoring youth from her neighborhood.

"The community is shocked and saddened by her passing, and we send our sincerest condolences to her loving husband, Ernest Carpenter, and their two sons," Harris says. "The Sierra Club extends its deepest sympathies to Ernestine's family, friends, and colleagues."

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