Remembering Ethel Dotson: A Black History Month Tribute

February is Black History Month and a time to give special honor to the countless African-American leaders and heroes, both nationally and locally.

I would like to give special tribute this month to Ethel Dotson, long-time Richmond resident who died in 2007 at the age of 65 from cancer. While Ethel's legacy has been rightfully honored repeatedly, it is both appropriate and relevant today to once again remember her great contributions to our continuing journey for environmental health and justice in the City of Richmond and beyond.

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Dotson family lived in the Seaport War Apartments, a segregated residential complex for war industry workers, next door to the Stauffer Chemical Co. manufacturing facility on Richmond’s south shoreline (the site was later sold to Zeneca and has become known as the toxic Zeneca site). As many of us are aware, this site is a toxic brew of over a hundred extremely dangerous toxins. Ethel believed that many in this wartime Seaport neighborhood who died of serious illnesses such as cancer, along with her own cancer, had been caused by chemical contaminants from the site.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Ethel for spearheading the petition that launched the Richmond Southeast Shoreline Area Community Advisory Group (known as the CAG) in 2005. The CAG continues its dedicated work today, as it has for over the last 15 years, calling for a comprehensive cleanup of the toxic Zeneca site.

We remember and are inspired by Ethel's legacy today as our community pushes back on a mega-housing development proposed to be built atop this toxic waste dump and approved by the former City Council majority in 2020. Legal action has been taken by community and environmental groups in regard to this former City Council's approval. I will keep you updated as publicly-available details emerge.

Thank you Ethel....your vibrant character and spirit live on, encouraging us all to never rest until social and environmental justice is achieved!

In solidarity for a healthy, safe, just and sustainable Richmond,


Gayle McLaughlin
Richmond City Councilmember
(510) 929-2200