Sierra Club Confronts Racism of John Muir, Lack of Diversity

The Sierra Club is addressing what it calls “our substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy,” staring with iconic club founder John Muir.

“Muir was not immune to the racism peddled by many in the early conservation movement,” Executive Director Michael Brune wrote on the club’s website. “He made derogatory comments about Black people and Indigenous peoples that drew on deeply harmful racist stereotypes, though his views evolved later in his life.”

But confronting the legacy of Muir and other Sierra Club leaders in its early days is a small part of the club’s effort to promote diversity.

Brune said the leadership structure will be changed so that Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color at the Sierra Club comprise the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions. Changes will also be made to elevate the voices and experiences of staff of color across the organization.

The club’s board will be asked to allow $5 million from next year’s budget—and more in the years to come—to go toward making investments in staff members of color and environmental and racial justice work.

Echoing the movement to remove Confederate statues, Brune said the club will spend the next year “studying our history and determining which of our monuments need to be renamed or pulled down entirely.”

That work will involve confronting the 128-year-old Sierra Club’s beginnings as a mountaineering club for middle- and upper-class white people who worked to preserve the wilderness they hiked through—wilderness that once belonged to Indigenous peoples.

“The Sierra Club maintained that basic orientation until at least the 1960s because membership remained exclusive,” Brune wrote. “Membership could only be granted through sponsorship from existing members, some of whom screened out any applicants of color.”

Muir was not alone among early club leaders with racist views, Brune wrote, citing Joseph LeConte and David Starr Jordan, both vocal advocates for white supremacy and eugenics.

Brune said it would take years for the Sierra Club to reconcile with its past.

“I know that the steps I’ve outlined above are only the beginnings of what will be a years-long process to reckon with our history, regain trust from the communities we have harmed, and create a diverse and equitable Sierra Club for the 21st century.”

Featured photo courtesy Inga Aksamit

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Comments 6

  • Avatar
    JustBob : Jul 23rd

    Will it ever end?

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Julie Mathis : Jul 23rd

    Thanks for reporting on this. Muir’s adoration for wild nature so resonates with me. And sadly, his racism resonates with much in our culture.

    I didn’t know about LeConte and Jordan. I’m glad the Sierra Club is bringing this stuff to light.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Eric : Jul 23rd

    Yes, let’s take a VERY BADLY needed five MILLION dollars away from things urgently needed to protect the mountains, to focus on skin color TODAY. Isn’t focusing on skin color the antithesis of anti-racism?
    I’m sure that 100 years ago and continuing today there were and are people who have done bad things of ALL skin colors.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Sue : Jul 25th

    We have got to forgive people for their sins! I am of the mindset, if everything is racist, nothing is racist! Every human being on this planet has made mistakes, but why does it have to dimish the great things they contributed? John Muir would not be proud of his words of racism he used when he was living, and would be regretful, if he were alive today.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mike : Jul 26th

    “Brune said the leadership structure will be changed so that Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color at the Sierra Club comprise the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions. Changes will also be made to elevate the voices and experiences of staff of color across the organization.”

    So, instead of addressing past wrongs with EQUALITY, the woke Marxists at the Sierra Club are swinging the pendulum 180 degrees the other way and shutting out whites from any and all decision making processes simply because of their skin color. That’s RACIST. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Treat everyone equally or go swivel on it, Sierra Club.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Mark : Aug 8th

    So let me make sure I understand. The Sierra club is hiring a majority of leadership positions based on skin color instead of being a qualified candidate. I understand Big Bird (yellow), Cookie Monster (blue) and Kermit (green) will be applying. Miss Piggy has already be hired as President due to her diversity of being pink and female.

    Reply

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