Using the power of photojournalism to expose social, economic and ecological injustice


The following post is based on my work to help stop the Atlantic Coast Pipeline area two long, hot summers ago, when I travelled to Union Hill. Union Hill is a freedman community directly threatened by the pipeline. I went there to meet with and document the members of the community organizing to stop the pipeline.

After six long years the $6 billion 600 mile Atlantic Coast pipeline has been shelved. It was environmentally devastating and blatantly racist. The Virginia Governor’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice determined the pipeline had “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations.” 

I was invited to visit Union Hill, VA in June 2018 as an activist photojournalist. The historic community of Union Hill, in Buckingham County west of Richmond was founded by slaves and freedmen. Union Hill is 84% black, rural and lower-income. It is also where a massive compressor station connected to the pipeline was planned to be built on or near freedmen cemeteries and unmarked slave burial sites. Local residents see the pipeline company’s disregard for their community as part of an established history of environmental racism in Virginia. Some of my photos are below. I also spoke to activists in the area about building capacity for strategic media and solidarity in another of my roles with Global Justice Ecology Project. After my return we wrote press releases and continued supporting the community’s work against the ACP in 2018. Links below are from GJEP’s work on the ACP.

  • All photos by Orin Langelle/Global Justice Ecology Project

Ella Rose (left), whose home was 150 feet from the planned site of the compressor station and within the zone of total destruction if it blew up stated, “I feel that all the hard work that all of us have done was finally for good. I feel like I have my life back. I can now sleep better without the worries that threatened my life for so long.” 


Union Hill Baptist Church’s Pastor Paul M. Wilson (right). The Pastor helped organize, along with Friends of Buckingham (County, VA), against the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the 55,000 horsepower compressor station planned by Dominion Energy in the Union Hill community. If completed, the pipeline’s purpose (on the books) was to deliver gas to markets in VA and NC with some discussion of expansion into SC.

Pastor Watson was interviewed on 7 July 2018 by Pacifica Radio’s KPFK Los Angeles Sojourner Truth with Margaret Prescod.



Clearcut area of forest by Dominion Energy for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (left). This is one of the first photos I took when arrived in VA. This cut is near Wintergreen Resort, a four-season mountain resort on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, located in Nelson County.

This photo was taken close to where a drill would bore beneath the Appalachian Mountain National Scenic Trail and the Blue Ridge Parkway through the mountain gap between Three Ridges Wilderness (George Washington National Forest) and Devil’s Knob (at Wintergreen Resort). The mountain consists of greenstone and granite. The bore would have been over 4,200 feet long and 46 inches in diameter for a 42” pipeline that would contain fracked natural gas at a pressure of 1440 pounds per square inch.

More photos and video follow

PRESS RELEASE: Virginia Governor Northam’s Advisory Council on Environmental Justice Calls for Stay on All Further Permits for Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines

Posted on 16 August 2018

Virginia—Governor Ralph Northam’s (D-VA) Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ) raised significant concerns and has called for a stay on all further permits for on the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).

The VA Governor’s Advisory Council also recommends an Emergency Task Force on Environmental Justice in Gas Infrastructure to review and address the evidence it has found of “disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations due to gas infrastructure expansion.” READ MORE

Following our press release the Blue Virginia published this BREAKING NEWS on the same day of 16 August 2018 But the next day:


Posted on 17 August 2018

Virginia- In response to a letter from his own advisory committee calling for a halt to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline due in part to its disproportional impact on poor and minority communities, the assistant for Governor Northam’s press secretary, Marissa Astor, told Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP) that it is the Governor’s position that the letter is only a draft, and not final until voted upon by the committee “in the coming weeks.” READ MORE

This one-minute video, which highlights the ACP’s threats to forests and water, uses footage from JR Chopper. While I did not take photos for this clip I did help in production and distribution – Orin Langelle

Union Hill, VA



Deacon Laury walks in front of the Union Hill Baptist Church (left). The church hosted much of the organizing against the compressor station for the pipeline that took place during my visit to the area.










Ruby Laury (left) speaks to a crowd in the Church










Other folks attending one of the meetings in the Church












At one of the freedmen cemeteries and slave burial sites. 18 June 2018 was the first time Union Hill residents saw this site. It was a time of sadness, but a sign of closure that was needed. I was honored to be there and observe this.










Yogaville, VA

Ashram (above) Yogaville, VA

Yogaville, or Satchidananda Ashram, was founded by Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda in 1980. He gained fame in 1969 when he opened the historic Woodstock (NY) music festival on Max Yasgur’s farm. The famous psychedelic artist Peter Max helped bring the Swami to the U.S. The Swami built the Ashram on property bordering Max’s. The rest is history.

The ACP planned to go through Yogaville and part of Max’s property. People at the Ashram I spoke to were unofficially opposed to the pipeline as was Max’s daughter Libra.

Another view of the Ashram

The view of the James River from a hill in Yogaville. The James River begins in the Appalachian Mountains and runs 348 miles to Chesapeake Bay. More than 18 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Residents of the watershed rely on the river for drinking water, commerce and recreation.

The ACP pipeline was scheduled to cross under the James on Max’s property.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline TelePress Conference

Posted on 11 September 2018: Community leaders and opponents of the the $6 billion, 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline project held a telepress conference with members of the media on Sept. 10. The conference was a collaboration between Global Justice Ecology Project, Friends of Buckingham… READ MORE

Some highlight quotes:

“We’re here today to speak out against the discounting of the lives that are there [in Union Hill]. There are 6 public schools, including 5 elementary schools and the school board was not notified about the compressor station. We know that it will mean 100% contamination of the water sources. And Water is life.  How are we going to live if we don’t have fresh clean water to drink? This is just another example of how the marginalized front line communities are discounted. When Dominion Energy went in to get the permit [for the pipeline] they just acted as though that population [in Union Hill] didn’t exist. Then they come in and they offer 1,000 jobs to kill 100,000 people. We cannot continue to allow this.”

Queen Rafiqa Zakia Shabazz

“I’d like to close with a brief prayer. It’s an Arabic prayer and loosely translated it means we seek refuge and protection from Shay-tan the curse devil, and in this instance, Dominion would be the devil.”

Queen Rafiqa Zakia Shabazz

“This is a never-ending saga in Virginia, where big business preys on the marginalized and those without a voice.  And it’s high time that this stops. I am a fifth-generation Harper.  Taylor Harper was a former slave who received my family’s land in 1893. Last Thursday surveyors came on our land to figure out where the easement that Dominion is looking to take for the pipeline would go. We’re currently in court over the easement, but they are looking at Eminent Domain. I will fight it to the end.  Governor Northam could stop this with an executive order, and he needs to do this. I will not allow this to affect my family members. I have a big problem with just allowing these folks to come in and destroy our history.”

Richard Walker, Bridging the Gap

Statement from Global Justice Ecology Project

For Immediate Release – 5 February 5 2019

Buffalo, NY–Global Justice Ecology Project released this statement today regarding Governor Ralph Northam (D-Va.) and the racist photographs that recently surfaced. Governor Northam has been denounced and asked to resign by other politicians and citizens.

Orin Langelle, who worked in and photographed the historic community of Union Hill, VA last summer for Global Justice Ecology Project headquartered in Buffalo, released the following statement:

“Whether VA Governor Ralph Northam was or was not in a racist photo from decades ago, to me is not the most important question regarding the man’s racist tendencies. It is also his current actions that must be taken into account.

“One only has to look at Union Hill, VA to see that Northam is still a racist, and a potentially deadly one.

“Northam is refusing to stop Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline natural gas compressor station slated to be built in Union Hill, an historic community founded by freedmen and emancipated slaves after the Civil War. One mishap at that compressor station could be deadly to residents of that predominantly African-American community.

“He is ignoring the recommendations of his own Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (ACEJ) that called for a halt to the ACP due in part to its ‘disproportionate impacts for people of color and for low-income populations…’

“Would he have allowed it to be built in one of the affluent white suburbs of Richmond?”

NOTE: Of particular concern was the placement of a compressor station in the historic community of Union Hill. The controversial placement was not only criticized by the Governor’s own Advisory Council, which he not only ignored but reportedly threatened to terminate because of its criticism of the project. Also Governor Northam was widely criticized for the shocking replacement of two members of the council who had been critical of the Governor prior to the vote to place the compressor in Union Hill.

Global Justice Ecology Project is happy to have helped in this struggle and that Dominion Energy and Duke Energy pulled out of pushing the ACP. Now if they’d just get off this planet!


Leave a Reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS