Author: Seamus Briody, Conservation Assistant

In honor of Black History Month, PLAN is happy to highlight a few remarkable historical Black conservationists whose outstanding contributions have significantly advanced the mission of preserving land and nature in the United States. Embracing diversity is integral to ensuring that ALL voices are heard and that conservation efforts serve the community as a whole. We owe a great deal to the individuals highlighted below, but also to the countless others who have dedicated themselves to protecting the environment.

Colonel Charles Young

Born into slavery in Kentucky in 1864, Charles Young was both the first Black man to achieve the rank of colonel in the United States Army and the first Black U.S. national park superintendent. In 1903, Young assumed the role of Superintendent for Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, the latter of which became part of Kings Canyon National Park. Credited with increasing public access through road construction, preventing illegal logging and hunting activities, and enforcing livestock boundaries, historians claim that he accomplished more during his time in the parks than the preceding superintendents. He is now the namesake of the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Read more about Young here:

Hattie Carthan

Hattie Carthan was an environmentalist based in Brooklyn, New York dedicated to ensuring the creation and preservation of green spaces in urban environments. After noticing the number of trees in her neighborhood decrease to a mere three in the span of around ten years, she formed the T&T Vernon Avenue Block Association, which spearheaded fundraising efforts to purchase and plant new trees. She went on to run the Neighborhood Tree Corps program, which educated youth on tree care, and protected a 40-foot Magnolia tree from removal for development, which went on to be the location of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center of Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Read more about Carthan here:

George Washington Carver

Considered to be one of the nation’s most impactful agricultural scientists, George Washington Carver is primarily known for innovations in soil health and crop usage, but also as a prominent environmentalist in his day. He was a pioneer in crop rotation methods to bolster yields and protect soil health, as well as an advocate for farmers involved in all sides of agricultural production and distribution systems. As demonstrated through his work and writings, Dr. Carver was ahead of his time in the belief that humans are integrated into the natural systems of the world and must function as stewards of the land around us.

Read more about Carver here:

As we continue through February and into the rest of the year, it’s important to keep these individuals and their accomplishments in mind as examples of what can be accomplished on behalf of the natural world.  

Photo: Library of Congress