“I believe that this group will actually be the catalyst to changing the literal face of the outdoors,” said team member Thomas Moore. “I think it will be what brings more and more black and brown folks into the outdoors. Just being able to see it, that’s a big deal.”
In the many decades since Sir Edmund Hillary first reached the top of Everest in 1953, fewer than 12 men and women of African descent have achieved this goal. Though we celebrate the climb of Jim Whitaker, the first American to summit Everest in 1963, only one Black person from the United States, Sophia Dannenberg on May 19, 2006, has done the same. Certainly, the color of a person’s skin has nothing to do with their ability to withstand the rigors of high-altitude mountaineering. But we must recognize the unassailable fact that racial discrimination from the earliest days of outdoor recreation has made an ascent of Everest by an all-Black team of climbers virtually impossible, until now.
When it was created on April 25, 1916, the National Park Service and many of the recreation areas under its jurisdiction were racially segregated. For more than 30 years, national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Great Smoky Mountains did not allow Black Americans to freely visit, only granting Black Americans permission to National Parks after the Second World War in 1945. The first Black park rangers weren’t actively recruited and hired until the early 1960s. Through much of the Jim Crow era and into the Civil Rights Movement, the risk of racially motivated violence for Black motorists while traveling between cities in the U.S. was a genuine threat. And when we consider the financial limitations of homeowner discrimination, limited access to startup business capital and restricted pathways to higher education, very few Black families or individuals had either the capacity or the inclination to even hope toward such an audacious goal as climbing Mount Everest.