America's oldest conservation group is owning up to its racist past and that of its founder, John Muir, the so-called "father of the national parks." Sierra Club leader Michael Brune on Wednesday acknowledged the 128-year-old organization's "substantial role in perpetuating white supremacy" through leaders such as Muir, reports the Washington Post. Muir's writings about nature and his push to preserve land inspired generations, but he also referred to Native Americans as "dirty" and African Americans as lazy "sambos." In a letter, Brune said Muir's views "evolved later in life." He added that David Starr Jordan, an advocate of white supremacy and eugenics, served on the board of directors during Muir's presidency—a time when membership came through sponsorship from existing members, "some of whom screened out any applicants of color."
Such actions "continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color," but the Sierra Club, counting 3.8 million members, has a new goal of "becoming an actively anti-racist organization," Brune says. For starters, "Black, Indigenous, and other leaders of color" will now "make up the majority of the team making top-level organizational decisions." The club will also consider renaming or removing some of its monuments. There are more than 50 memorials to Muir just in California, per the San Francisco Chronicle. Other environmental groups have vowed to address racial bias, per the Post. Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, acknowledged a culture of white supremacy after a Black employee penned a 17-page resignation letter describing various issues. Brune said the letter was "heartbreaking and familiar," per the Post. (Read more racism stories.)