Chicago Audubon Society calls for a name change, moving away from ties to naturalist

The Chicago Audubon Society, an environmental organization, wants to cut associations with John Audubon, a naturalist who engaged in ‘scientific racism.’

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**FILE** This print showing Ivory-billed Woodpeckers, from an engraving by John J. Audubon, was released by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 2000. The ivory-billed woodpecker, thought to be extinct, has reportedly been sighted in eastern Arkansas, a Cornell University researcher says in a paper released Thursday, April 28, 2005. John W. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University said there have been several independent sightings of a

Ivory-billed woodpeckers from an engraving by John J. Audubon. The Chicago Audubon Society cites the naturalist’s ties to a genocidal campaign against people of color in deciding to drop his name. It is encouraging the National Audubon Society to do the same.

JOHN J. AUDUBON, AP

In a letter sent out this week by the Chicago Audubon Society, the environmental consulting organization says it plans to drop “Audubon” from its name and is encouraging the National Audubon Society to do the same.

The Chicago Audubon Society said it would determine a new name within the year if the National Audubon Society does not announce a new name.

“Carrying John James Audubon’s name does not serve us well ethically,” the organization said, calling out the naturalist’s ties to a genocidal campaign waged against people of color.

The organization argued that Audubon had no role to play in the discovery of nation’s natural resources but merely described them for mostly white audiences.

According to Judy Pollock, president of the Chicago Audubon Society, Audubon was a proud slave-owner and seller who participated in “scientific racism.”

“Audubon is not an appropriate standard-bearer for our organization,” she said. “It is time for us to re-examine these naturalists’ place in history.”

David Yarnold, former president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, said the national organization was committed to projecting an image as an antiracist institution, and that it bears the responsibility to help correct centuries of racial injustice, beginning with dropping the name.

Audubon did not found any of the organizations that bear his name; they were named after him posthumously beginning in the 1880s and 1890s because of his deep association with North American birds, he added.

“We won’t fix 400 years of oppression overnight, but we can do far more as organizations and as individuals than we thought possible,” Yarnold wrote. “In order to do that, we have to own up to our pasts even while we chart a new future.”

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