John Muir a Racist?

I’m in total support of each one of us honestly facing our own history, and telling the full, true stories of our historical figures, even heroes.  Maybe especially our heroes.

So, I have no issue with the Sierra Club pointing out the good and the bad in the personality and writings of John Muir.

The Sierra Club faces its white-supremacist history

Some of us who write and teach about Muir have addressed this issue before.

(see my essay on John Muir Among Native Peoples)

This is not about excusing any of his statements, but clarity is important so we don’t overstate the man or his message.

This is the comment I left on the Washington Post article:

I’ve read, taught and written on Muir for some years and, other than several cringe-worthy statements, I find no evidence he was a racist. He was no saint, but no supremacist either. In fact, he recorded speeches by Native Americans he esteemed with more respect than the missionaries who were trying to convert them. Yes, in at least one instance he referred to some tribal members as “dirty,” so I wouldn’t excuse that. I would only point out that he often wrote he admired people who lived closer to the dirt, the ground, the earth, Nature. Having said this, I always applaud facing our history and historical figures with eyes wide open, with honesty. Muir should be seen as he was in the context of his time.

One thought

  1. Chris, I’d love to chat with you on this issue, but detest social media. Ultimately I’m wondering if it might be possible to have a dialog among Muir scholars regarding race. There has been an unequivocal message sent to the public that Muir was a flat out racist, and that really is an injustice to the man and the cause. The Sierra Club really trashed the man and, really, taking down his statue like he was a confederate general? As someone who has devoted a great deal to two primary causes, the environment and social justice, I’m very concerned about the state of dialog in this country. Do you have an old fashioned email address?

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