Sierra Club confronts past, starting with founder John Muir’s racist views

Bay Area

(KRON) – Controversy over “the father of our national parks.”

The Sierra Club is calling out its founder John Muir for racist views. Muir’s name appears across California and the Bay Area from schools to national monuments and now his legacy is questioned.

This isn’t the first time John Muir’s legacy has been questioned. He’s been known to be racist in the past but the death of George Floyd has reignited attention. 

An apology from the Sierra Club Wednesday, executive director Michael Brune writing on the group’s website saying it’s “time to take down some of our own monuments.”

The Sierra Club, a 128-year old organization known for their outings and preserving the great outdoors, is confronting their own past.

Re-examining the legacy of founder John Muir and his racist remarks about Blacks and Indigenous people made more than a century ago.

KRON4 spoke with Sierra Club board president Ramon Cruz.

“We also need to recognize how the environmental movement and the green movement have sometimes not been the best partners for many years in communities,” Cruz said.

Muir’s name appears across the Bay Area and the state from schools to national monuments.

His Martinez home is preserved at a national historic site.

Muir is known as “the father of our national parks,” closely associated with Yosemite, Muir Woods is named for John Muir.

We reached out to national parks services asking if they would consider removing Muir’s name in the wake of the Sierra Club’s apology.

Their response in a statement says quote:

As the nation continues to confront racial injustice, there has been a focus on historic monuments and place names. Across the country, the National Park Services (NPS) maintains and interprets monuments and sites that commemorate and memorialize historical figures, including those who represent important, and painful, chapters in our nation’s history.

The NPS preserves these and other sites and offers interpretive context for them and the history they commemorate. At Muir Woods National Monument, park staff tell the story of William Kent, who, in naming the monument, sought to honor the legacy of the founder of the Sierra Club. Today, the monument shares the totality of the history of Muir Woods, including Kent’s own legacy as that of a conservationist who espoused anti-immigrant ideas.

A hallmark of American progress is our ability to discuss and learn from our history. The NPS is committed to continuing to tell these stories throughout our nation, in all of their complexity.”

In the meantime, the Sierra Club plans on restructuring its leadership so that Black, Indigenous and other leaders of color make up the majority of the team.

“It’s a process. It’s a journey and this is only a first step to start what we’re seeing is a long process to reexamine our history and learn from it and come to terms with some of the figures that we have put in the highest regard,” Cruz said.

Ramon Cruz is the first elected Latino Board President of the Sierra Club.

We also reached out to John Muir hospital for their reaction – we received a statement saying:

We are aware of the Sierra Club’s denunciation of John Muir, the naturalist, as a racist and the article in today’s Washington Post. As a health system, we strongly condemn all forms of racism. The views of John Muir in no way reflect the mission and values of John Muir Health. We stand for equity, diversity, inclusion, dignity and mutual respect. The selection of the John Muir name was part of an elementary school naming contest when the Walnut Creek Medical Center was being constructed in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Our Board of Directors is appointing a study group to examine the history and legacy of the John Muir name, and to offer recommendations on this complex topic.

As a health system, we have been doing a lot of listening and learning. As part of this process, we are evaluating all things within John Muir Health that relate to diversity, inclusion and respect, and larger issues such as our leadership role in our communities to help combat racism and health disparities.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, anti-racism, and reducing health care disparities demand, and are receiving, our serious attention. To fulfill our mission and live our values, John Muir Health is committed to ensuring that our physicians, staff, patients and community feel safe, respected and valued so that we all feel we belong.

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