News

Sierra Club Will Address History of Racism, White Supremacy, Restructure Leadership

Environmental group. The Sierra Club, pledged to examine its “substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy” and to remove or rename monuments of founder John Muir, Fox News reports.

According to the organization’s website they plan future blog posts to talk more about the struggles Indigenous people, people of color, and their white allies went through to get this organization to evolve on issues like immigration and environmental justice. The posts will also include the viewpoints of its founder, famed conservationist John Muir. In an open letter entitled “Pulling Down Our Monuments,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said it was time for the Sierra Club to reckon with the words of Muir and other early members.

“The Sierra Club is a 128-year-old organization with a complex history, some of which has caused significant and immeasurable harm,” Brune wrote in an open letter posted on the organization’s website. “As defenders of Black life pull down Confederate monuments across the country, we must also take this moment to re-examine our past and our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”

 

But Muir maintained friendships with people like Henry Fairfield Osborn, who worked for both the conservation of nature and the conservation of the white race. Head of the New York Zoological Society and the board of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, Osborn also helped found the American Eugenics Society in the years after Muir’s death.

While Muir’s “writings taught generations of people to see the sacredness of nature,” he also “made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes,” according to Brune. “Muir maintained friendships with people like Henry Fairfield Osborn, who worked for both the conservation of nature and the conservation of the white race. Head of the New York Zoological Society and the board of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History, Osborn also helped found the American Eugenics Society in the years after Muir’s death.”

Other early Sierra Club members and leaders, including Joseph LeConte and David Starr Jordan were vocal advocates for white supremacy and its pseudo-scientific arm, eugenics. Jordan, for example, served on the board of directors during Muir’s presidency. A “kingpin” of the eugenics movement, he pushed for forced-sterilization laws and founded the Human Betterment Foundation, a group whose research later inspired eugenics legislation in Nazi Germany.

“The whiteness and privilege of our early membership fed into a very dangerous idea — one that’s still circulating today. It’s the idea that exploring, enjoying and protecting the outdoors can be separated from human affairs,” Brune said.

The Sierra Club plans to restructure its leadership to be more inclusive and commit $5 million toward supporting the Sierra Club’s staffing overhaul and combating racial injustice.

“To begin with, we are redesigning our leadership structure so that Black, Indigenous and other leaders of color at the Sierra Club make up the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions,” Brune said. “We will initiate similar changes to elevate the voices and experiences of staff of color across the organization. We know that the systems of power that got us here will not enable the transformational change we need.”

The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 in San Francisco, California and has more than three million members.