Conservation groups drop Audubon name in 'commitment to anti-racism'


The national Audubon Society is to decide whether to find a new name after its Portland and Chicago chapters both drew a line under their association with the pioneering ornithologist who died in 1851.

For two years the leading US conservation organisation has been carefully considering its relationship with the legacy of John James Audubon, who traded slaves and subscribed to so-called 'race science'.

The National Audubon Society is under mounting pressure to disassociate from ornithologist John James Audubon (Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery).

Adding to the pressure for total severance of Audubon's name, the umbrella organisation's employees' union, formerly known as Audubon for All, has announced that it is now named Bird Union.

Bird Union said in a statement: "Starting today we disavow the name. We will not elevate and celebrate a person who would reject and oppress our union members today."

On 28 February, Portland Audubon Society announced its intent to drop the Audubon name. It said that only recently has the Portland and wider Audubon community woken up to "the fact that John James Audubon enslaved and sold black people, opposed the abolition of slavery, and dug up and stole the human remains of Native Americans from their graves."

Portland Audubon has urged the National Audubon Society to begin a renaming process, allowing all local chapters to "make a strong statement toward the network's commitment to racial equity," but it has committed to its own name-change if National Audubon decides to remain as it is.

Elsewhere in the US, the Chicago, Seattle and Madison chapters have also committed to changing their names, as has the unaffiliated Audubon Naturalist Society. The latter is now goes by Nature Forward.

Chicago Audubon wrote to Elizabeth Gray, National Audubon's chief executive, saying that the name "does not serve us well ethically" and that it would rename itself within one year if the wider body did not come up with a new name.

A spokesperson for the National Audubon Society said it "is in the midst of a robust decision-making process about the name of the organisation."

They added: "This process has been informed by feedback from people across the Audubon network and beyond, research from historians about John James Audubon the person and the founding of our organisation, and analyses on the impact of the name on our mission."

The latest of three National Audubon executives to quit wrote in an exit email in December that the society has so far failed to live up to declared values.