Black Conservationists, Environmentalists and Outdoor Advocates Who Changed History
February is Black History Month! Join us in celebrating some of the Black environmentalists, advocates and thought-leaders who have championed work to protect our public lands, mitigate climate change and increase equity and access in the outdoors.
Please note that this list is not comprehensive.
Image Caption: Charles Young in full dress uniform prior to receiving the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1916. National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio
The first Black National Park Superintendent, Charles Young was a strong protector of what is now known as Sequoia National Park. Through his brief tenure as superintendent the park reported zero incidents of poaching, kept livestock off the grounds, improved 18 miles of trails and built roads through the park to increase accessibility. His hope was that the road would “insure a thousand tourists where in previous years there have been but a hundred.”
“Indeed, a journey through this park and the Sierra Forest Reserve to the Mount Whitney country will convince even the least thoughtful man of the needfulness of preserving these mountains just as they are, with their clothing of trees, shrubs, rocks, and vines, and of their importance to the valleys below as reservoirs for storage of water for agricultural and domestic purposes. In this, lies the necessity of forest preservation.”
-Captain Charles Young in Report of the Acting Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, California, October 15, 1903
Image caption: Hattie Carthan A community activist and environmentalist, Hattie Carthan was instrumental in improving the quality of life in Brooklyn, NY. © New York City Parks
“Hattie Carthan was green long before anyone knew what green was about.” – Nancy Wolf, friend of Ms. Carthan
Carthan was a community activist and environmentalist who was instrumental in improving the quality of life of Bedford-Stuyvesant. When she noticed the rapid deterioration of trees in her neighborhood, she began replanting them herself. She created the Tree Corps in 1971 in order to teach young people how to care for trees and encourage the creation of all types of urban green spaces. The Hattie Carthan Garden and the Magnolia Tree Earth Center continue Ms. Carthan’s acts of community engagement and environmental action. Her inspiration can also be found today in such organizations as Green Guerillas.
Dr. John Francis
Image Caption: Image from planetwalk.org
The Planetwalker. After witnessing a 1971 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, Dr. Francis stopped using motorized transportation and began his first trek across the United States. This adventure spanned seven years in which time he attended three universities on his way to earning a Ph.D in land resources. During his walk he learned the importance of listening and took a vow of silence lasting 17 years. In 1982 he founded Planetwalk a non-profit organization coordinating a global network of planetwalkers with the purpose of promoting environmental education and responsibility. Today Dr. Francis is a visiting associate professor at the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Through his work as the first education fellow at the National Geographic Society he has published two books, Planetwalker: 17 Years of Silence, 22 Years of Walking, and The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World.
Lisa Jackson as the first Black person and fourth woman in history to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. EPA. Her accomplishments with the EPA include, issuing clean air standards designed to reduce emissions from large facilities, modernization of chemical laws, innovation in drinking water protections and expanded outreach to communities historically under-represented in environmental action.
After her tenure with the EPA, Jackson began working with Apple to make the company more environmentally friendly. Apple has since “transitioned to running 93% of their operations on renewable energy and are creating 99% of their packaging from recycled paper or paper harvested from trees in sustainably managed forests.” – Captain Planet Foundation
Continue Reading About Past and Present Black Leaders in Environmentalism, Conservation and Outdoor Advocacy
- The Conservation Fund – Freedom Riders Journey Continues to Inspire
- The Nature Conservancy – Black Conservationists and Scientists Who Led the Way
- Green Matters — Black Outdoor Activists and the Organizations They Founded
- The Giro — 10 Black Climate Leaders Fighting for Environmental and Racial Justice
Sources used in this compilation: