Sierra Club Discovers Founder Was a White Supremacist


The National Park Service is being urged to change the name of LeConte Memorial Lodge in the Yosemite Valley by the Sierra Club, as the environmental group has charged Joseph LeConte, a founding member of the Sierra Club, was an unrepentant racist.

Last summer the Sierra Club discovered LeConte had written of his racist views for years after the Civil War, including an 1892 book called, “The Race Problem in the South.” The investigation was triggered by a story in July in the Daily Californian, which reported that members of the Black Student Union at UC Berkeley wanted the university to rename LeConte Hall.

Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director Bruce Hamilton told the Fresno Bee, “We knew he was from the South and a former slave owner, but we were unaware until recently that, to his dying day, he was holding white supremacist viewpoints.”

In late October, Sierra Club President Aaron Mair and Executive Director Michael Brune wrote to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis and Associate Director Stephanie Toothman, asking the lodge to be renamed the Yosemite Valley Education Center. They insisted, “It is especially troubling to have his name associated with a building whose very function is to welcome visitors, and to educate and inspire them. His name sends a mixed message to all visitors to the lodge.”

According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, LeConte, who helped found the Sierra Club in 1892, was the first geologist, natural historian and botanist appointed to the University of California in 1868. At the same time, his brother John, a physicist, was named acting president of the University, later officially named president from 1876-1881.

LeConte died in 1901 during a Sierra Club trip to Yosemite, prompting the building of the lodge in his name by volunteers in 1903.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman told the Bee, “We’re committed to having that facility open to the public. As far as any name changes, it’s just something we continue to be in discussion about.”

Muir co-founded the Sierra Club.

Hamilton concluded, “We actually have to try to do things right, so when people of all races come to Yosemite, they aren’t confronted by a monument to a white supremacist.”


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