The Audubon Society is a well-known environmental group, even among those not ornithologically inspired. Their mission: the conservation of birds.
What isn’t as well-known is who it is named for, 19th century naturalist John James Audubon who set out to paint every bird in North America. But that’s only half his story.
He also enslaved people, and now his racist background is coming under scrutiny, as the New York City chapter of the Audubon Society is distancing itself from the name and the national organization by dropping it altogether.
“John James Audubon’s name is synonymous with birds and conservation in the last decade. There’s been a lot of writing and research about some of the less attractive parts of his legacy, including the fact that he was in fact a slaver, a critic of abolition and contributed data that fuel white supremacy,” said Jessica Wilson, Executive Director of New York City Audubon.
Because of that history, NYC Audubon started discussing changing its name. On Monday, by a majority vote of its board of directors, the group reached a decision to make a change.
“What we learned was the name Audubon was serving as a impediment to getting people involved,” Wilson said. “We want to be as welcoming as possible in order to protect birds, we’re gonna need everybody’s help.”
Birders applauded the move
“I think it’s a good idea I’m all for supporting changing things to be more racially equitable whatever that is whatever helps,” said a Central Park birder on Friday.
The New York City chapter’s decision is the opposite of what the national chapter decided to do — they announced last week that they will keep the name as is.
Holly Leicht, who runs the Madison Square Park Conservancy, said her organization played a role in the name change.
“We want to encourage new populations that have never thought of birding, or even in some ways nature as a place that they feel safe going and spending time,” said Leicht.