Climate Refugees in the City of Creeks

Exhibition Open: May 06—September 07, 2023
Levine Museum of the New South
401 S Tryon St Charlotte, NC 28202

 A mural on Central Avenue in East Charlotte welcomes the city’s immigrant population. 

 Mural by Rosalia Torres-Weiner.

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1935 map of Charlotte showing neighborhoods (in red) subjected to discriminatory lending practices.

Courtesy of Mapping Inequality Online Archive.

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Crescent and Wedge inequalities today by (a) income, (b) race, (c) access to environmental justice.

 Courtesy of the City of Charlotte.

The Problem
The Roots
The Solutions

Charlotte is a diverse, welcoming city. Yet it is known for its map of “crescent and wedge” race and income inequalities, ranking last in economic mobility out of 50 largest US cities. Climate change spurs increasing flooding and gentrification, worsening freedom of movement for people of color, immigrants, and youth.

Charlotte’s environmental injustices flow via water. Creeks were foundational to the city’s development. They enabled European settlement, gold mining, coal-powered industry, and polluting textile mills. Charlotte’s creeks are sites of environmental racism, flooding, and displacement–but also resilience. 


Charlotte is a central hub in the environmental justice movement with teachers, students, and schools in the lead. Naming past harms as part of our city’s story is a first step towards repair. Community-led solutions, like climate curriculum in our schools, creek restoration, green spaces, and fair employment and housing, will ensure just futures for residents old and new.


Who are Climate Refugees? Exploring climate change and migration in Charlotte. 


Origins of Extraction: A history of mining and mills along Charlotte’s creeks.


Development and Displacement: How urban renewal programs destroyed a community. 


Challenging Environmental Racism: Seeking refuge in West Charlotte. 


Students Strike Back: Charlotte leaders of the environmental justice movement.


Building Resilience: Schools’ role in public memory and green renewal projects. 


Just Futures: Teachers discuss curriculum for climate justice. 

Our Point of View

University Partners
Community Partners

As history students at UNC Charlotte, working on this project made us confront our various forms of privilege. We can now put words to experiences of environmental injustice that we didn’t know had a name, or a history. Working with the Charlotte Teachers Institute, we found that our city’s teachers, students, and schools are on the front lines of climate change and its intersecting crises. The act of choosing which stories to share wields power. The stories presented here are incomplete, yet interconnected. They honor the work that has come before us and are a springboard for discussion, study, and action.

—University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Charlotte Teachers Institute is an innovative partnership among Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, UNC Charlotte, and Johnson C. Smith University that supports community-and teacher-led professional development. CTI’s collaboration with this project began with a 2021 faculty-teacher seminar led by Tina Shull at UNC Charlotte. We discovered our own and our students’ stories of migration and environmental change. Here, we offer the concept of climate “refugee-ness” as a way to connect experiences across communities and across time.

—Charlotte Teachers Institute


University Partners

University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Faculty Project Director Dr. Tina Shull Director of Public History
Exhibit Curation and Production Assistant Mars Grubbs Public History M.A. Student
Research and Digital History Projects Alyssa Martin Skyler Spangler Paul Telljohann Audrey Whisnant
FILM 4221: Community-Based Filmmaking, Spring 2023 Jaden Sutton Hallie Barnes Eduardo Diaz Sindy Games Jaquan Hardy Collin Heiler Pavlo Smith Ethan Stover
HIST 6330: History in the Digital Age, Fall 2022 Chad Allen Carly Collins Shelby Dains Olivia Dobbs Emery Gardiner-Parks DJ Gates Hannah Glynn Mars Grubbs Brandon Mallernee Alyssa Martin Logan Nance Samantha Rivenbark
HIST 3000: Climate Refugee Stories, Spring 2022 Haider Alhashem Jalen Cannady Josh Downtain Anthony Edney Anthony Fortunia Mitch Halbedl Kevin Kernodle Justin Leaston Jake Leath Kimberly Lira-Ortis Kendra Marley Hassan Al Megdad Ahmed Nouh Thomas Paris Phoebe Rodia Liam Donoghue Smith Skyler Spangler Vinh Tran Jaylan Williams Carson Wolter Sean Yarbrough
Faculty Consultants Randi Beem Instruction Librarian and Archivist, J. Murrey Atkins Library Adreonna Bennett Community Engagement Archivist, J. Murrey Atkins Library Dr. Sandra Clinton Assistant Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences William Davis Director of Film Studies Dr. Michael Ewers Assistant Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences Dr. Willie Griffin Assistant Professor of History Tina Katsanos Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies Dr. Janaka Lewis Director of the Center for the Study of the New South Dr. Brian Magi Associate Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences Marek Ranis Professor of Art and Sculpture Area Coordinator Dr. Heather Smith Professor of Geography and Earth Sciences Tina Wright Oral History Interviewer, J. Murrey Atkins Library

Community Partners

Charlotte Teachers Institute

Scott Gartlan Ed.D., Director
Angela V. Walker Ed.D., Seminar Coordinator

Climate Refugee Stories Seminar Teacher Fellows

Lindsay Adams
Mawuena Dabla
Mariella Fernandes
Matthew Kelly
Amy Mateer
Jennifer Myers
Seon Sloley
Harlina Vargas
Lynne Wiesecke
Erika Williams

Harvesting Humanity

Eboné Lockett M.S.Ed., CEO


Anisha Sharma Education Manager
Daisha Wall Community Science Manager

Other Contributors

Kayla Chadwick-Shultz M.A., Public History
Michele Lemere Garinger High School
Mary Newsom Journalist and UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Retired
Jennifer Roberts Mayor of Charlotte (2015-2017) and Reimagining America Project
Rosalia Torres Weiner Artivist, Red Calaca Studio

Exhibiting Partners

Levine Museum of the New South

Exhibitions Christopher DeLange Preparator, Collections & Exhibitions Augusta Oosthuysen Registrar & Exhibitions Manager Dr. Keri Petersen Senior Director of History and Exhibits