NYC Audubon Society changes name due to white supremacist heritage

They are betting on Audo-bon voyage.

After months of deliberation, the New York Audubon Society decided to change its name, citing founder John James Audubon’s legacy of white supremacy.

The ornithologists’ organization announced that the bomb had exploded. his website and in an email sent to participants.

“Today, the NYC Audubon Board of Directors announced its decision to change the organization’s name to eliminate “Audubon,” NYC Audubon Executive Director Jessica Wilson wrote in an email to supporters.

She added that the nonprofit will begin the process of developing a new name that “embodies our organizational values” and is “inclusive and welcoming to all New Yorkers.”

The Audo ban was the culmination of an eight-month evaluation that found founder John James Audubon’s name “a barrier to entry into the organization for many”.

While the non-profit acknowledged that the naturalist’s contributions to ornithology are “significant” and contributed to “understanding of nature and the ethics of conservation” in the US, they found his views and actions towards blacks and indigenous peoples “harmful and offensive”.

Although they did not list his specific problematic views, the naturalist’s family owned enslaved people. early 19th century. Audubon was also notorious for being critical of the abolitionist moment on both sides of the ocean. In an 1834 letter to his wife Lucy Bakewell Audubon, Audubon stated that the British government had “acted imprudently and too hastily” in freeing enslaved people in its West Indies possessions.

Naturally, Audubon faced the potential cost of renouncing on behalf of an organization that had 10,000 members since its founding in 1979. The New York Times reported..

Audubon also serves thousands of other bird watchers with its world-renowned bird walks, talks, and other free programs. The name Audubon also has deep roots in New York, as Audubon and his family lived in a clapboard house along the Hudson River in the 1840s in what is now Washington Heights.

Ultimately, however, Wilson decided that “symbols matter”.

“They’re important to our efforts to engage New Yorkers with birds, nature, and conservation,” she said. “They matter in our commitment to the principles of equality, diversity, inclusiveness and accessibility that we have held for a long time.”

“We are an urban conservation organization and we must reflect the diversity of the city and the community values ​​we share,” said Karen Benfield, President of the Board of Directors of NYC Audubon. Bird populations in North America have declined by almost a third since 1970. and this is a crisis.”

She added: “To protect them, we need broad support, as many voices as possible, and this is not helped by a name that is divisive and has such a deeply negative connotation for many both inside and outside of our organization.”

NYC Audubon has yet to decide on a new name for the nonprofit. However, they sought to “gather input from our broad audience” to “define a name that feels inclusive and welcoming to all New Yorkers.”

Despite the rebranding campaign, Benfield vowed that Audubon’s campaign to preserve Gotham’s birdlife has not changed.

“We remain committed to protecting wild birds and their habitats in the five boroughs, engaging all New Yorkers in this work to create a healthier and more sustainable city for birds and people,” she wrote.

With the proposed transformation, New York joins other branches that are considering an image overhaul, including branches in Seattle, Madison, Portland, Chicago and Washington, DC.

Interestingly, these additional decisions are at odds with parent nonprofit National Audubon Society, which voted last week to keep its name on the grounds that “organization goes beyond the name of one person“.

“Each chapter has the autonomy and authority to determine its name to best meet its needs,” National Audubon Society executive director Elizabeth Gray said Tuesday. “We will continue to support and work closely with the chapters and move forward as a unified community.”

Racism in the world of ornithology reared its head in 2020 after dog walker Amy Cooper called the police to New York Audubon board member Christian Cooper (no relation), a 59-year-old black man, while he was birdwatching in Central Park. The woman, who has since been nicknamed “Karen of Central Park”, falsely accused him of threatening when he asked her to keep her Cocker Spaniel on a leash.

NYC Audubon is not the first iconic Big Apple institution to change its image in the name of inclusion.

City officials sparked online outrage last year after they tore down a statue of Theodore Roosevelt that had stood in front of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan for more than 80 years.

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