Sierra Club disowning its co-founder over racist comments he made 100 years ago

By Chris White

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune disavowed co-founder John Muir Wednesday, citing racist beliefs the iconic conservationist once held, and relationships he forged with people who supported white supremacy.

“It’s time to take down some of our own monuments, starting with some truth-telling about the Sierra Club’s early history,” Brune wrote in a statement on the group’s website. Sierra Club is ending its years-long reverence for Muir in an effort to distance the 128-year-old environmentalist organization from its co-founder’s racist past, he added.

Muir, who died in 1914, worked to preserve Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Forest, The Washington Post reported in an article Wednesday about the group’s disassociation from their co-founder. He also had a racist past, Brune said.

Public domain

Sierra Club co-founder John Muir

Muir made “derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes,” Brune wrote, noting that Muir’s positions evolved over time. He cited a 2016 article in Atlas Obscura highlighting Muir’s racist past.

Muir once referred to black people as “Sambos,” a pejorative term for African Americans, WaPo reported. He also called American Indians “dirty” and “lazy,” according to Atlas Obscura.

“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,” Brune said.

“Such willful ignorance is what allows some people to shut their eyes to the reality that the wild places we love are also the ancestral homelands of Native peoples, forced off their lands in the decades or centuries before they became national parks,” Brune added.

Brune also highlighted Muir’s close relationship with Henry Fairfield Osborn, who led the New York Zoological Society and became the board of Trustees of the American Museum of Natural History. He also helped found the American Eugenics Society after Muir’s death in 1914. Osborn’s group believed nonwhite people and Jews were inferior to white people, WaPo reported.

Brune’s decision comes amid nationwide demonstrations against the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in May after a police officer kneeled down on his neck for nearly nine minutes, video of the incident shows. His death sparked a movement to defund the police, as well as a push for organizations to reconsider their past allegiances to historical figures with racist pasts.

Planned Parenthood of New York condemned its founder Margaret Sanger Tuesday for her “harmful connections to the eugenics movement,” the New York Times reported.

The Washington Redskins officially retired the team’s name on July 13 after the team’s primary sponsor, FedEx, requested a name change, ESPN reported July 2.

“I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality, since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital,” Norton said in a July 1 statement to WaPo. “He has got a problem he can’t get around, and he particularly can’t get around it today, after the George Floyd killing.”

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Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Public domain
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2 thoughts on “Sierra Club disowning its co-founder over racist comments he made 100 years ago

  1. I suppose Mr. Brune has never made a derogatory comment about anyone in his life which evidently gives him the absolute power to degrade someone else.

  2. “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” Interesting quote that seems very accurate in today’s world of politics.

    Our society today has little regard for philosophy, study of western civilization in our education nor in our press. If we had we might realize that man is terrible flawed. We have all done and said hateful things. Are to condemn every person for this? Will that bring us closer together? Will that heal the nation?

    The final and ultimate renaming will the Unites States of America, because we once allowed slavery. That is the true aim and final goal. People aren’t even told or thinking, hey we were a British Colony when this whole slavery thing started. Vermont had abolished it in our foundation of our Republic. It was on the minds of our founders for sure.

    No we can have not thought against the current trend, even if 100 years ago. Is there any man that has sin free heart? Who has done no wrong?

    The above quote was from Benito Mussolini, an Italian fascist. It sounds all to familiar to our poltical discourse in Vermont.

    Everything within the state—— we protect our own, the ruling in Montpelier
    Nothing outside the state ——- we will bring in our own people with similar ideology
    Nothing against the state——–we will fire anyone who goes against the popular state doctrine, even
    ………………………………………….if you are a great principal.

    Do not challenge the party line, you will be replaced, you will be primaried, you will get no money from the VT Democratic party. This is how they keep a very tight ship. This is how Vermonters are being controlled.

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