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Newtown Florist Club celebrates anniversary

POSTED: September 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.
For The Times/

The late Frances Meadows rallies the crowd during a ceremony in 2000 to mark the renaming of a Gainesville street to honor Martin Luther King Jr. The Newtown Florist Club led the charge to rename the street.

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Today, the Newtown Florist Club celebrates not only its 58th anniversary, but 30 years of fighting for environmental justice.

This evening, the Newtown Florist Club will hold its annual anniversary banquet featuring guest speaker Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, the mayor of Riverdale.

"We’re going to have some displays of our work over the 30 years," said Executive Director Faye Bush. "And we’re still fighting; we’re still in the trenches."

The Newtown Florist Club started in 1950 as a service group that gave flowers to families when someone in their community died.

But in 1978, the group began to take action about the pollution from nearby factories that they believed was contributing to many of the illnesses and deaths in their neighborhood.

"We have a high rate of lupus here in Newtown," Bush said.

The factories in the Newtown area of Gainesville produce dust and odors that the Newtown Florist Club members are fighting to end.

"People didn’t pay attention to the air and all the environment that you’re exposed to; people didn’t talk about it that much," Bush said. "At least we got the word out there, and people started taking heed to what was going on in the community."

Bush said the Newtown Florist Club is well-known in Georgia through its years of advocacy.

"We’ve done a lot of going to meetings and educating other groups in other cities about the environment," Bush said.

Bush said among the club’s accomplishments she is most proud of is getting a street in Gainesville named after Martin Luther King Jr.

"We didn’t have a street here in Gainesville named after Dr. King," Bush said.

But the club has been active in a number of projects in the community throughout the years.

"With my time I have a lot of memories," Bush said.

She said she takes groups on "toxic tours," to show what the group believes are the effects of the factories’ emissions on Newtown.

The club members also started a community land trust, built five homes on Black and Cooley drives and even published a book about their story.

And though the group is 58 years old, it works to include younger women in the community.

Bush said the Newtown Florist Club holds a six-week leadership program for girls during the summer, teaching them about leadership, healthy lifestyles and etiquette.

For the future, Bush said she would really like to see more changes to ensure a healthy life for Newtown residents for years to come.

"This year, I’m really happy about it because I think that the work that we’ve done over the 30 years on the environment and racism — and how long it’s been — things haven’t changed that much, but it has changed some," Bush said. "And we continue to fight for a better life to live. We should be able to breathe fresh air and live in a clean community."



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