Juanita Greene: Trailblazer in Environmental Journalism

Inspired by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Greene used her platform as a journalist to speak up for South Florida's natural places.

If Marjory Stoneman Douglas is the Mother of the Everglades, another Florida woman is also a part of its family tree. Juanita Greene followed in Stoneman Douglas’ footsteps as a journalist and activist for Florida’s natural places, becoming the Miami Herald’s first environmental reporter and later serving on the board of Friends of the Everglades, the organization Marjory Stoneman Douglas founded in 1969.

A Newsroom of Her Own

Juanita Greene began her career in journalism as a student at Louisiana State University during World War II. Greene worked her way up to the editor position at the school’s newspaper, a role that in any other circumstances would have likely gone to a man. She moved to Florida in 1945 to start work at the Tampa Bay Times, and later the Daytona News Journal, where she became aware of the first of many environmental issues that would inspire her legacy: public access to Florida’s miles of beautiful coastline.

In 1956, Greene caught the attention of the Miami Herald’s managing editor, who offered her a position. Greene spent the next ten years as a staff writer, covering local and national politics and even spending time in Cuba in 1959 to report on the country’s Revolution as Fidel Castro took power. Greene was a rarity among female reporters, who at the time were usually relegated to the “women’s pages,” covering topics like fashion. For the first decade of her Miami Herald career, Greene’s byline appeared on articles about racial integration, land development, taxes, and urban planning.

Meeting Marjory

While covering a Florida cabinet meeting about whether the state should buy land surrounding the sugar industry’s property in the Everglades Agricultural Area, Greene witnessed the force of nature that was Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and the trajectory of Greene’s career changed forever. Seeing the way Stoneman Douglas, by then an elderly woman in her seventies, commanded the room as she spoke in support of the environment inspired Greene.

After that fateful meeting, Greene began pitching story after story about environmental issues, imploring Herald editors to cover these topics as a form of public education. Greene championed the protection of Biscayne Bay from development — a variety of different projects were considered, including an industrial seaport requiring dredging to a depth of 40 feet, two power plants, and several different routes of causeways and highways connecting the primitive keys in the Bay to the recreational hotspots springing up along the mainland coast. Greene’s thorough coverage of these proposals strengthened public support for the designation of Biscayne National Monument in 1968.

The First Environmental Reporter

In 1969, Juanita Greene became the Miami Herald’s first environment reporter — a title created for her and virtually unheard of in other newsrooms at the time.

“So isolated is the shoreline of South Biscayne Bay that many conservationists who are fighting to save it don’t know what it looks like,” begins a 1970 article Greene wrote about the fight to protect red mangroves from real estate developers and property owners who wanted to remove them. Much of Greene’s reporting at this time alludes to the struggle between developers and the public over what to do, or not do, with the land in Miami-Dade.

Defender of the Everglades

Until her retirement in 1987, Greene continued to be a fierce advocate for environmental issues, and as a retiree, her activism soared. On the board of the Friends of the Everglades, she was instrumental in filing lawsuits when the state altered the terms of its Everglades restoration plan. Many years later, the resulting settlement brought about an $880 million restoration plan under Governor Rick Scott. She also advocated for the return of as much land as possible to the Everglades from the sugar industry that damaged it.

Juanita Greene and Marjory Stoneman Douglas remained lifelong friends, kindred spirits who shared the same goal of protecting Florida’s landscape and healing the damage that had already been done. The Friends of the Everglades named Greene a “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Defender of the Everglades,” a prestigious award given annually to individuals who “not only have achieved success in the field of Everglades preservation and restoration but also exemplify the tenacity and spirit of Friends of the Everglades’ founder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.” Greene passed away in 2017 at the age of 93.

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