Mixed Emotions about John Muir: Environmentalist and Racist

Published:  June 4, 2020

I didn't know much about the man John Muir until I started reading A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf in late March of this year.

I knew about the hero John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, Father of the National Parks, famous for all sorts of great quotes about the restorative power of nature, but legend is often not an accurate tale of the person.

It didn't take long for me to realize the man behind the legend was an incredible racist. 

Excuses could be made for Muir that it was the era he was raised in (he wrote A Thousand Mile Walk in 1867 just a couple years after the Civil War ended).  If that were true, then the same excuse would apply for people today who are intolerant towards African Americans because like a faulty gene, racism is easily and often subconsciously handed down from generation to generation.

I was raised in south Georgia in the '80s.  Racism (mostly that subtle underlying rip current type) was all around me growing up, ingrained into many members of my immediate family.  My mom and dad both came of age in the '60s in the Deep South, and all my grandparents a generation before them in the same area.

Love the sinner, hate the sin is a phrase I understand deeply. I haven't personally witnessed overt racism by any member of my family towards an African American, Latino, or any other race, but some of the stories my dad has shared from his childhood of how he treated black children his age were more than enough to make me ashamed of the boy he was.  He wasn't violent in any of those stories, but it doesn't take violence to disgrace a fellow human being.

My dad has come a long way from the child he was, and the proudest I've ever been of him was when he voted for Obama.

My dad's story of becoming less racist is unusual among members of my immediate and extended family, and in the days since George Floyd's murder, several family members have asked me about the protests and just why George's murder has elicited such a dramatic response. 

My response is simple and it may be inaccurate (I am white after all).

Black Americans want the same rights that we white Americans take for granted.

Yes, black people hold jobs and go out and about and live life like the rest of us, but they do it with an ever present fear that white people just don't understand. 

African Americans want:

  • The right to gather in worship without fear of a mass shooter killing them because their skin color is different than his.
  • The right to not worry about their 17-year old son walking over to the convenience store and back.
  • The right to go for a jog without being killed.
  • The right to sleep peacefully through the night.
  • The right to live in modern day / post Civil Rights Era America without fear of being beaten, dragged behind a pick-up truck, and killed (James Byrd Jr. 1998)

The list goes on            

                          and on                 

                                      and on.

George Floyd is just the latest in the line of heartbreak and injustice.

I don't think George's death broke the levy because it just became too many deaths. 

I think George's death broke the levy because we're living in a unique time... we're in quarantine so we have time to focus on this, we have videos showing not just apathy but complicity by three officers with a fourth that killed George in front of bystanders.  It is injustice on film without deniability.

And, people who have been immune to this injustice for their entire lives are peeking around the blinders and starting to ask if this really is reality.  George's murder could be the catalyst that sparks the change we so desperately need.

Even though John Muir was a racist, the Sierra Club, which he founded, finally got on board with equality.  The Sierra Club now partners with several organizations to support, encourage, and empower people of all races to enjoy the outdoors. 

The Sierra Club is also committed to ousting the white supremacist and hate incarnate that half of America elected to replace Obama, truly payback for electing a black man as President (preach it Joyner).

Good can come from bad.  But we cannot afford to take our foot off the gas pedal.  Let's keep pushing, keep rolling the great American wheel of society towards justice for all and equality for all. 

And, above all, let's remember to be kind to one another, compassionate towards one another, and to love one another.  If things are going to change, action fueled by justifiable outrage and tempered with love must continue until something revolutionary and groundbreaking happens, until white men are arrested immediately for shooting a black man on the side of a road, until black men jogging, walking through neighborhoods, and knocking on doors for help are not perceived as criminals. 

This is our generation's Civil Rights Movement.

Let's unite unrelenting until true reform is implemented nationwide.

black lives matter rally with protestors in masks and sign saying "People Not Property"white hand holding a sign saying justice for Breonna Taylor

Brandy Searcy founder Rain Organica

About the Author

Brandy Searcy is an outdoor girl who loves hiking, gardening, bird-watching, and body boarding.  Her innate curiosity means she's constantly researching something, and she's likely sharing what she's learned here on the blog. 

Nearly obsessive about her skincare, she started developing products to pack with her on day hikes and soon realized her backpacking friends were searching for a portable skincare routine as well, and that's how Rain Organica started.

Brandy's LinkedIn Bio

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