He may have devoted most of his life to the preservation of America’s wilderness and had a direct hand in the establishment of Yosemite National Park, but legendary environmentalist John Muir was friends with eugenicists – and so, he must be canceled.
The Sierra Club – which Muir founded and served as its first president – has condemned the iconic naturalist for his associations, along with racist comments in what Executive Director Michael Brune described as part of the organization’s “substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy.”
In a Wednesday post on their website, Brune pointed to Muir’s close friendship with paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn and other eugenicists – whose movement sought to improve the genetic quality of the human race through selective breeding and sterilization of those deemed ‘unfit to reproduce.’ The list of ‘undesirables’ included those with mental or physical disabilities, low IQs, criminals, deviants, and various minority groups.
The Sierra Club’s distancing from Muir comes just one day after Planned Parenthood of Greater New York announced that they would remove the name of Margaret Sanger, the organization’s founder, from their Manhattan clinic in order to disavow her ties to the eugenics movement. However, it may come as a surprise that as recently as 2009 eugenics was OK – that’s when Hillary Clinton said she was “really in awe” of Sanger, whose work “in the United States and certainly across our globe is not done.”
Muir was further denigrated in Wednesday’s Washington Post, which called him racist for having described native Americans ‘dirty’ – which Johnmuir.org points out was taken out of context.
The critics ignore that Muir decried dirt and squalor anywhere he found it, disapproving of domestic animals or people alike who were unkempt and dirty compared to the “clean” forest animals he observed in his wanderings. Reading elsewhere in his journals, we find that Muir’s aversion to dirt on the human body just as often included people of European descent as anyone else. –John Muir Global Network
He also referred to African Americans as lazy “Sambos,” according to the Post, writing in A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf “One energetic white man, working with a will, would easily pick as much cotton as half a dozen Sambos and Sallies.”
That said, later in life Muir lived among the Tlingit natives in Alaska, of which he wrote “Uncle Sam has no better subjects, white, black, or brown, or any more deserving his considerate care.”
The Sierra Club and the Post also ignore Muir’s ‘evolved attitude’ towards Native Americans of the course of his life – as apparently only southern Democrats such as Robert Byrd – a former Grand Cyclops of the KKK who filibustered the original GOP civil rights act, are allowed to ‘evolve’, while Muir is apparently beyond redemption.
In their Wednesday letter, the Sierra Club said that because of Muir’s legendary status, his “words and actions carry an especially heavy weight” which “continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club.”
“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,” the group added.
In order to atone for the racial sins of their founder, the Sierra Club announced that the 128-year-old organization – the nation’s oldest environmental group which boasts over 800 employees and four million members – that it would overhaul its executive leadership so “that leaders of color at the Sierra Club make up of the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions.”
The club will also invest $5 million “in our staff of color and our environmental and racial justice work.”
Will California now rename the 211-mile John Muir trail? Or will UC San Diego rename Muir College to something less offensive?