The Sierra Club apologized Wednesday for racist remarks its founder, naturalist John Muir, made more than a century ago as the influential environmental group grapples with a harmful history that perpetuated white supremacy.
Executive Director Michael Brune said it was “time to take down some of our own monuments” as statues of Confederate officers and colonists are toppled across the U.S. in a reckoning with the nation’s racist history following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Muir, who founded the club in 1892, helped spawn the environmental movement and is called “father of our national parks,” figures prominently in what Brune called a “truth-telling” about the group’s early history.
“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,” Brune wrote on the group’s website. “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.”
Muir, who was born in Scotland, came to the U.S. as a young man and traveled and wrote extensively, romanticizing nature in breathless passages. He emphasized the need to preserve the land but also disdained Indigenous people as dirty savages and Black people as lazy “Sambos,” a particularly offensive slur.