The Atomic Heritage Foundation is pleased to announce the publication of two new "Ranger in Your Pocket" online interpretive programs on African Americans and the Manhattan Project and the environmental legacy of the nuclear site at Hanford, Washington.
In viewing these programs, students, online audiences around the world, and visitors to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park can learn about often-overlooked parts of the Manhattan Project's history. In the program on African-Americans and the Manhattan Project, viewers explore the contributions African American scientists and workers made to the Manhattan Project and the racism they faced. In Hanford’s Environmental Legacy, viewers learn about Hanford’s role in the Manhattan Project and the Cold War, the environmental impacts on the surrounding area, and the recent successes and challenges to cleaning up the site. Both programs feature eyewitness accounts and expert testimony.
“My uncles and other relatives coming through, they had worked out here [Hanford] and they had come back home. They could earn much more money – about three times the money – here than they could earn back there. And so, the word got around. It got around pretty fast. People were going not only to out here, but they were going to California, Houston, Dallas. They were beginning to migrate to different places because of the work and the war, and the opportunities there.”
Many African Americans endured racism and segregation in search of better opportunities. For example, Jackie Peterson, who curated the “The Atomic Frontier: Black Life at Hanford” exhibit at the Northwest African American Museum, explains how DuPont generally assigned African American women roles working in kitchens or cleaning, even if they were qualified for skilled jobs such as welding. George Warren Reed, a scientist at Columbia University, wanted to enlist into the US Army like his white counterparts so that he could be eligible for the G.I. Bill. However, the draft board in Washington, D.C. denied his claim and stated that they “could not touch him.”
After World War II ended, many African Americans were laid off and expected to return to their hometowns. However, the Cold War arms race led to increased production of plutonium for nuclear weapons. As a result, previously terminated African American workers were rehired to meet the demand for more personnel. For those who decided to return, they worked to establish and improve their communities and fought for their civil rights. This program features a number of experts, including physicist Ronald Mickens and Manhattan Project veterans Luzell Johnson and Willie Daniels.
The Hanford’s Environmental Legacy program brings together the different perspectives of government officials, Hanford Downwinders, Native Americans, and others to highlight Hanford Site’s complex history and environmental cleanup. Designated the site for plutonium production during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War arms race, Hanford released radioactive gases and created 56 million gallons of waste that have impacted the Columbia River and the surrounding environment. For example, historian Michele Gerber and journalist Karen Dorn Steele talk about the 1949 “Green Run” test, in which iodine-131 radionuclide gas was released in an attempt to test Hanford’s filter system.
In 1992, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington State Department of Ecology signed the Tri-Party Agreement to govern the cleanup of the Hanford Site. John Price, the Tri-Party Agreement Section Manager for the Washington State Department of Ecology, states that the agreement is a “get-along agreement,” because DOE, Ecology, and EPA have overlapping authorities and responsibilities. “We could be in conflict with each other all the time if we didn’t have a get-along agreement that says, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do our work, and we’ll agree to do things in a certain way, even though we may both have authority or responsibility over something. We’ve got some rules that we don’t get in each other’s way.’”
Over the years, progress has been made in cleaning up Hanford, such as stopping waste discharge to the soil. However, many challenges remain that inhibit the total cleanup of this Superfund site, including funding, politics, and lack of public interest. The program features experts with a range of perspectives, including Tom Carpenter, executive director of the nonprofit watchdog Hanford Challenge, and Keith Klein, the former manager for the Department of Energy at Hanford.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation is very grateful to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust for its financial support. Special thanks to Trisha Pritikin, Karen Dorn Steele, Thomas Marceau, Jackie Peterson, Keith Klein,Gary Peterson, Mark Morrison-Reed, Vanessa Moore, and many others who shared their stories, family photographs, and expertise for this project.