Log In

Reset Password

Charity whose name derives from US slave holder considers name change

First Prev 1 2 Next Last
Janice Hetzel, the president of the Bermuda Audubon Society (File photograph)

A Bermuda bird conservation charity is exploring a potential name change to distance itself from John James Audubon, the anti-abolitionist slave owner it derives from.

The Bermuda Audubon Society said the conversation had begun in light of other organisations dropping the name – the Seattle chapter of the Audubon Society and the Audubon Naturalist Society.

Janice Hetzel, president for the Bermuda Audubon Society, said: “According to historian, Gregory Nobles, ‘John James Audubon was a man of many identities: artist, naturalist, woodsman, adventurer, storyteller, myth maker’.

“He was also a racist, a slaveholder and an active anti-abolitionist. Two organisations in the United States have recently chosen to drop the name Audubon due to this legacy. This is certainly something to consider.

“The Bermuda Audubon Society intends to begin the conversation and will be looking to our membership and the community for their input.”

Mr Audubon was best known for his book Birds of America and died in 1851, long before the first Audubon Society was formed.

According the National Audubon Society, George Bird Grinell, one of the founders of the early Audubon Society in the late 1800s, was tutored by Mr Audubon’s widow, Lucy Audubon, and chose the name because of his standing in wildlife art and natural history.

The National Audubon Society was formed in 1915 in the US as a non-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of birds and their habitat.

The Bermuda Audubon Society was launched in 1954 and is not part of the National Audubon Society.

Ms Hetzel understands that the name of the Bermuda Audubon Society was chosen by American conservationist Richard Pough, who visited Bermuda regularly.

Ms Hetzel said: “The name was inspired by the reputation of the National Audubon Society and perhaps in recognition of the fact that most of our migrant birds came from America. It is likely that little or no thought was given at the time to John James Audubon the person.”

She added: “I think we are now in a time where we need to examine the full backgrounds and not just the myths of our historical figures. Many of them have been given recognition or held in high esteem for their positive contributions.

“Unfortunately, many of these same individuals have done things that we would consider to be unjust or immoral.

“I think the process of reckoning with the complicated and not always pleasant truths about our historical figures is very important.

“It leads to greater understanding of our past and helps us to build a more just future. In this process, we can recognise the historical context of someone’s behaviour but still say that what they have done is wrong.

“We can also begin to reflect on our own histories and behaviours, both personal and institutional, and ask how we can do better.”