Audubon Naturalist Society Dumping Name Of Bird-Loving Slaveholder

John James Audubon enslaved and sold people, and his writings promoted the idea of white supremacy.
"Great White Heron" by John James Audubon.
"Great White Heron" by John James Audubon.
Sepia Times via Getty Images

The Audubon Naturalist Society is jettisoning its name because of the “pain” caused by the 19th century ornithologist — and slaveholder — John James Audubon, it announced last week.

“The deliberate and thoughtful decision to change our name is part of our ongoing commitment to creating a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it. It has become clear that this will never be fully possible with our current name,” said a statement from the organization.

“We will change our name to one that better reflects the growing, rich diversity of the region that we serve and sends a clear message now and in the future: Nature needs all of us.”

The Audubon Naturalist Society advocates for wildlife, especially birds, and maintains sanctuaries in Maryland, Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area.

John James Audubon was predominantly known for his studies and illustrations of American birds.

But he also enslaved people — and sold them when he was short on cash — in the 1820s. In addition, his legacy has been stained over his objections to the abolitionist movement and for writings characterizing Black and Indigenous people as inferior to white people.

“We can and must do better to address equity and racial justice in everything we do,” said Diane Wood, incoming ANS board president. “We are deeply invested in breaking down barriers and acknowledging our part in an exclusionary past.

A new name has not yet been chosen for the organization. One will be picked “after a deliberate and thoughtful process of listening and learning from the current ANS community as well as the nature lovers we aspire to partner with in the future,” said the ANS statement.

There’s no word yet on whether the National Audubon Society — the largest organization to still carry Audubon’s name — will make a change.

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