NYC bird group drops name of illustrator and slave owner Audubon

Jun 11, 2024, 9:26 AM

NEW YORK (AP) — The conservationist group known as NYC Audubon has changed its name to NYC Bird Alliance to distance itself from the pro-slavery views of ornithologist and illustrator John James Audubon, the organization announced.

The name change, which was formalized by a June 5 membership vote, follows similar moves by Audubon Society chapters in Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Oregon and other cities.

“Names may be symbolic, but symbols matter,” said Jessica Wilson, NYC Bird Alliance’s executive director. “They matter to staff, to volunteers, to members, and to the larger conservation community. We collaborate widely with our partners across the five boroughs, and want this name change to signal how much we value and seek broadly cooperative efforts to save wild birds.”

The newly named NYC Bird Alliance formed in 1979 and calls itself an independent chapter affiliated with the National Audubon Society, whose board voted last year to keep the Audubon name despite the fact that Audubon was a slave owner and an opponent of abolitionism.

Audubon, who lived from 1785 to 1851, is known for documenting birds and illustrating them for his master work “The Birds of America.”

Audubon owned enslaved people for a number of years but sold them in 1830 when he moved to England, where he was overseeing the production of “The Birds of America,” according to Gregory Nobles, the author of “John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman.”

When Britain emancipated enslaved people in most of its colonies in 1834, Audubon wrote to his wife that the government had “acted imprudently and too precipitously.”

NYC Bird Alliance’s leaders say they hope that dropping the Audubon name will help them win broader support for their mission of advocating for endangered and threatened bird species.

“For the sake of the Piping Plover, Philadelphia Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Bobolink, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Fish Crow, and many other species, we need help,” NYC Birding Alliance says on its website’s “FAQS About Audubon Name” page. “We cannot allow our name to be a barrier to our conservation, advocacy, and engagement work.”

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NYC bird group drops name of illustrator and slave owner Audubon