Friday, February 19, 2016

Joseph LeConte: The Sierra Club Jumps The Shark

Dale Matson
“Sierra Club seeks Yosemite Lodge name change after learning it honors white supremacist” The article written by Andrea Castillo can be found here.

I found it rather ironic that while the National Park Service is fighting with the Delaware North Company over Yosemite Park name changes, it now has to consider the request of the Sierra Club executive members to remove Joseph LeConte’s name from the lodge in Yosemite built to commemorate his life and work. LeConte along with John Muir was one of the founding members of the Sierra Club.

It is also an irony but not a surprise, that the politically correct preservationist Sierra Club would take a turn toward historical revisionism. The club was once proud to associate itself with the name LeConte and they are the publishers of his book “A Journal Of Ramblings Through The High Sierra Of California By The University Excursion Party”. The Sierra Club was undoubtedly the primary advocate to have LeConte’s name associated with many of the Sierra Nevada features like the LeConte Divide. Will they now contact the Board on Geographic Names (BGN) and request that his name be removed from the next generation of topographic maps?

It is often said that hindsight is 20-20 but history is what it is, both noble and shameful. What we do today will be judged by folks who come after us. Being ‘enlightened’ in the present does not allow us to deny the reality of the past and the story of Joseph LeConte should remain, with the proviso that his racism be acknowledged and this can be done without celebrating it at the same time. As Scripture states, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” (John 8:7)

The negative things in my history should not cancel the good things I have done. How many of the executive members of the Sierra Club (a club to which I belong) are themselves without sin? How will their actions be judged 50 years from now?

Frankly many individuals in LeConte’s day were racists. That is not to say that it was right but do we purge the recorded history of those individuals as payback for their objectionable actions and attitudes? Theodore Solomons another founding member of the Sierra Club was concerned that his name would not appear on any landmarks because of his opposition to club leadership in his day.

Both John Muir and Clarence King were racists in their attitudes and comments about Native Americans. King wrote in “Mountaineering In The Sierra Nevada”,  “I usually confess my opinion that the Quakers will have to work a great reformation in the Indian before he is really fit to be exterminated.” Should his great discoveries as a geologist for the State of California be discounted for this? He was the first head of the USGS. Should his name be removed from Mt. Clarence King in Kings Canyon and King Peak in Antarctica?

John Muir was involved in commercial logging in Yosemite. He herded domestic sheep that spread diseases to the native Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep and almost caused their extinction. Should his name also be removed?

Should the remains of Walter Starr Jr. be removed from his rock tomb created by Norman Clyde and Jules Eichorn on Michael Minaret? What about the spirit of the Wilderness Act to “Leave No Trace?  What will we learn about other icons? Ansel Adams another Sierra Club member condemned his grandfather and father for operating a lumber business yet he smoked cigarettes. How would we judge him by today’s standards?

Francis P. Farquhar “History Of The Sierra Nevada” dedicated a chapter to the Sierra Club. He noted that some words in the Sierra Club’s original charter were removed. To “render accessible” What has happened since then? Would LeConte, Muir and Solomons even apply for membership today?

This is the season of Lent and a fitting time for the leadership of the Sierra Club to do some corporate soul searching. As a member, I am frankly tired of all the requests for more donations, threats of litigation and obstructionist politics. It is time again for the Sierra Club to be as pro people as it is pro environment.    

1 comment:

  1. The Sierra Club has renamed The LeConte Memorial in Yosemite to the "Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center".