What Lies Beneath: The Monon Trail, the Indianapolis Sewage System, and the Politics of Race

In the early 2000s the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a suit on behalf of the city’s black residents in federal district court charging that the city was violating the civil rights of Black residents under the provisions of the Clean Water Act of 1972. The DOJ and the Black residents argued that the City of Indianapolis committed environmental racism in the operation and maintenance of its sewage system by intentionally pumping untreated sewage from affluent White neighborhoods into the waterways of Black neighborhoods, thereby making the existing sewage overflows situation far worse. In 2006 the city entered a binding federal court consent decree under which it agreed to make massive improvements and upgrades to its aging sewer system. Leon Bates, a Ph.D. student at the University of Louisville, will conduct research to understand, in light of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the factors that led the city of Indianapolis to operate its sewage system in such a discriminatory fashion.

Leon Bates is a doctoral student in the Department of Pan African Studies at the University of Louisville. He holds master’s degrees in public history from Wayne State University and in Pan African Studies from the University of Louisville. In 2022 he received the Walter K. Nugent Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the Indiana Association of Historians, and in 2021 the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts Alumni Association at IUPUI honored him with its Career Achievement Award. Bates has written several entries for the Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis and an article for American Legion Magazine. His research has led to the installation of three Indiana state historical markers. He has presented at numerous conferences, including the Indiana Association of Historians Conference, the Midwestern History Conference, the Borderland Stories Conference and the National Council for Black Studies Conference.