WASHINGTON - The Sierra Club, which was established in 1892 and is now one of the most prominent U.S. environmental organizations, acknowledged Wednesday that its founder was a racist.
John Muir, sometimes called the “patron saint of the American wilderness,” was one of the leading figures in creating the widely regarded U.S. National Park Service, which oversees vast pristine lands that Americans and tourists by the hundreds of millions flock to each year for vacations and exploration.
But as the U.S. reckons with its past treatment and views of minorities in the aftermath of the May death of an African American, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis, the Sierra Club said it was time to deal with Muir’s views from the early 1900s.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a post on the group’s website, “It’s time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club’s early history.”
The environmental group said his friendships in the early 1900s were also troubling. Following Muir’s death in 1914, a close associate, Henry Fairfield Osborn, helped establish the American Eugenics Society, which labeled nonwhite people, including Jews at the time, as inferior.
Muir “made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life,” the environmental group said. “As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight. They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club.”
In the wake of Floyd’s death, numerous groups have owned up to the unsavory, troubling views of their founders.
Monuments of Confederate generals who supported slavery and seceded from the United States in the 1860s as part of the Civil War have been knocked down by protesters or removed by city governments. Others have protested tributary statues honoring Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who landed in the Americas in 1492 but now is being reassessed for his mistreatment of Indigenous people.
Some U.S. lawmakers are seeking to rename military bases in the South that now are named for the defeated Confederate generals, although President Donald Trump says he is opposed to such efforts as an attempt to cancel the country’s history.