The Society’s namesake, John James Audubon, was an unrepentant opponent of the abolitionist movement who enslaved nine people at his Kentucky home in the early 1800s. In 1834, Audubon complained the British government acted “imprudently and too precipitously” when it freed enslaved people in the Caribbean. The move to keep the name raised internal strife, prompting three board members to resign and condemnation from staff and birding groups across the country.
“[The] decision to double down on celebrating a white supremacist and to continue to brand our good work with his name actively inflicts harm on marginalized communities,” the society’s staff union said in a statement. A number of local chapters changed their names in response as “the name is a barrier imposed upon historically excluded communities that suffer the impacts of environmental calamities first and disproportionately,” the Seattle chapter said. “We choose differently. We choose the antiracist path.” The society also announced a fund of $25 million for diversity, equity and inclusion work, vowing to promote awareness and understanding about Audubon’s “problematic legacy” and the inequalities “inherent in the conservation movement.”
Lisa Alexander, the head of Nature Forward, said the organization decided last fall to change its name from Audubon Naturalist Society, after taking a “a deep-dive look” at its name.
“We don’t really want to be affiliated with John James Audubon’s history,” Ms. Alexander told the New York Times. “For us, it just felt like the name change was a signal to our community that all people are welcome.”