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Audubon Society bucks critics, keeps 'enslaver' name despite criticism: 'Must reckon with the racist legacy'

Bird conservation group, the National Audubon Society, is refusing to change its historic name despite critics pointing to the "racist" background of its namesake.

The National Audubon Society, one of the most powerful bird conservation groups in the country, bucked critics Wednesday and elected to keep its name despite criticism from some groups in the birding community.

CEO of the National Audubon Society Elizabeth Gray defended the decision in a press statement, explaining that the organization’s namesake, John James Audubon, was a naturalist and illustrator who made "an important contribution to the field of ornithology in the mid-19th century and there can be no doubt of the impact of his life’s work and passion for birds." 

The decision made by the board of directors, Gray wrote, was that "the organization transcends one person’s name."


 Susan Bell, Chair of the National Audubon Society’s Board of Directors, echoed Gray's sentiments in a separate statement from Wednesday.

"We must reckon with the racist legacy of John James Audubon and embody our EDIB values in all that we do."

But Gray also wrote that Audubon was "an enslaver whose racist views and treatment of Black and Indigenous people must be reckoned with."

The Bird Union’s views on the matter, a union and workers group with staff from the National Audubon Society, were less nuanced. 

"The National Audubon Society’s decision to keep the name of enslaver and White supremacist John James Audubon shows that the Board and CEO Dr. Elizabeth Gray have no interest in following through on their commitments to cultivate a fair and equitable workplace," Bird Union wrote in a statement from Wednesday.

The statement was headlined, "Audubon Leadership Doubles Down on Racist Name." 


"Their 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, including members of our union who for too long have been excluded from the environmental movement," the Bird Union argued. 

Bird Union wasn’t the only animal advocacy group to blast the National Audubon Society for its decision. 

The Portland Audubon also announced in February that it would no longer condone its own name. 

"We cannot continue to condone bearing a name that celebrates a slaveholder who embraced white supremacist systems." 

A birds rights group formerly known as Seattle Audubon declared that it would change its name, arguing that it was choosing "the antiracist path," unlike the national branch of the Audubon Society. 

Some media outlets were surprised by the National Audubon Society’s decision to keep its historic name. 

"The decision to keep the name bucks a recent trend of social reckoning that had led to renaming schools and streets, and the removal of statues to sever associations with people with racist histories, including fellow bird conservation groups that have recently dropped Audubon from their names," The New York Times reported Wednesday. 

As The Washington Post headlined in another story from Wednesday, "National Audubon Society, pressured to drop enslaver’s name, keeps it."

The Bird Union did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital. 

Fox News’ Hannah Ray Lambert contributed to this report. 

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