dorceta taylor
In honor of Black History Month we’re highlighting Black environmentalists who have made invaluable contributions to how we think about and understand the environment and nature. Today’s environmentalist is former U-M professor Dr. Dorceta Taylor.

Pictured: Dr. Dorceta Taylor in the conservatory at Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

By Alyssa Abaloz, Matthaei-Nichols student intern


In 2020, the AARP recognized Dorceta Taylor as one of six people continuing Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy through her work.
A former professor of environmental sociology at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), Taylor has received numerous awards for her work in conservation and sociology. 
In a 2019 interview with Resources Radio, Taylor recalls her first introduction to nature was as a young girl growing up in Jamaica in the 1960s. Taylor remembers always being happier in a nearby rose garden. “Oh my God, this is so cool.” Taylor recalled, “All the adults are inside making a nuisance of themselves. I am outside looking at all these roses, looking at the hillsides, looking at the waterfalls. This is really, really neat.”
Taylor continued on to Northeastern Illinois University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in geography and biology. She then went on to Yale, where she obtained two doctorates: in sociology and in forestry and environmental studies.
In 2014, Taylor authored a groundbreaking report assessing institutional diversity among environmental organizations, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies.”
She then went on to author “The Rise of the American Conservation Movement: Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection” (Duke University Press, 2016). In her book, Taylor sought to demonstrate “how very interconnected racism, classism, sexism was in not only the rise of the early movement, but the perpetuation and the growth of the movement,” according to her interview with Resources Radio.
The American conservation movement was started by white men, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that environmental clubs began admitting Black people, according to Taylor.  “So [environmental studies] kind of grew up in this way where no one was asking questions about race, about class, about gender very much,” she explained.
In an article published by the national magazine of the Sierra Club, Taylor wrote about how “the future of environmental justice is one in which people of color are recognized as equal partners in environmental affairs, and it is one in which people of color can realize the adage coined at the outset of the environmental justice movement: ‘We speak for ourselves.'”
Dr. Dorceta Taylor is currently a professor at the Yale School of Environment.