February 1, 2021|By Kristie George

African Americans in Conservation: Recognizing the Past to Inspire a Better Future

There are many African Americans who, through resiliency and determination, have contributed to the ongoing, important work of conserving the landscape, history, and stories of this nation. While there is still great work to be done to repair the relationship that African Americans have with the land, African American conservationists know that we need to be an important voice in what happens with this land that we all share.

Even though many have attempted to rewrite American history to exclude non-white stories, African Americans have risen up and continuously made historical contributions because we understand that representation is important to shape this country toward a more equitable and equal future. Honoring those who have paved the way for current African American conservationists and environmentalists is one way that we can look to our past to inspire a better future. People like:

Hattie Carthan (1900-1984)2 1 21 Hattie Carthan

Mural depicting Hattie Carthan at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center in Brooklyn, New York.

An environmentalist and community activist for the Bedford-Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn, NY, Hattie Carthan formed the T & T Vernon Avenue Block Association after witnessing her once tree-lined block deteriorate over time. T & T Vernon Avenue Block Association raised funds to revive the community by planting trees. In 1996 the Bedford-Stuyvesant Beautification Committee was founded to award grants to educate youth about tree care and provided jobs opportunities through their Neighborhood Tree Corps program. Hattie’s legacy lives on in the community engagement of the Hattie Carthan Garden, Farm and Community Markets.


MaVynee Betsch (1935-2005)
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MaVynee Betsch.

Known affectionally as “Beach Lady,” MaVynee Betsch made it her life’s work to be an advocate and donor for Florida’s coastal environment. MaVynee’s environmental and conservation activism was rooted in her family’s legacy. Her great grandfather, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, founded American Beach on Amelia Island, which is Florida’s oldest African American beach. During her lifetime she donated an estimated $750,000 to sixty environmental organizations and causes.


Charles Jordan (1937-2014)
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Charles Jordan. Photo courtesy of Dion Jordan.

Charles Jordan was outspoken about the need for the conservation movement to better engage and involve people of color. He brought a very human emphasis to conservation, and changed the landscape of conservation and parks in America, literally and figuratively. His career spanned several decades and states, including California, Oregon, and Texas. Charles served on The Conservation Fund’s Board of Directors for 20 years, and led as Chair from 2003-2008. During his tenure he prompted the Fund to begin to work on urban parks. His impact and legacy are still felt today within the Fund and the conservation movement as a whole.


Jerome Ringo (1955- )
2 1 21 Jerome Ringo Kirchentag Cologne 2007Jerome Ringo.

A staunch environmentalist and champion of tangible, clean-technology solutions, Jerome Ringo is committed to protecting the Earth’s natural resources and improving the quality of life for generations to come. He is Founder and Chairman of Zoetic Global, a renewable energy project developer. Jerome has been a leader in the environmental movement for decades. He was elected to serve as a board member for the National Wildlife Federation in 1996, and in 2005 was elected as board chair. Jerome is also a longtime jobs advocate and spent over ten years as a union member working to ensure secure work environments and quality jobs.


African Americans have been, and are currently, intertwined with environmentalism and conservation in America in so many areas—agriculture, food history and justice, travel, government, land ownership, activism and climate change. As conservationists it is important that we ask ourselves continuously who are we protecting land for and what are we protecting land from? It is also important for organizations to highlight, encourage and support African American contributions to these movements every month of the year.


Find Out More

African Americans in Conservation: Young Black Conservationists to Know
In the first post in our series African Americans in Conservation, we highlight young African Americans continuing the important work of changing the face of conservation and environmentalism.

Written By

Kristie George

Kristie George is the Graphic Designer for The Conservation Fund. She is a designer who helps make the visions of small businesses, people, and organizations into real products and campaigns through communication design and brand strategy. Kristie received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the Art Institute of Washington in 2010. She is an long-standing member of American Institute of Graphic Arts, and an active member of African American Graphic Designers. Kristie is also a member of the Fund's Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee.