Chicago group sheds ‘Audubon Society' name, and here's why

The group formerly known as the Chicago Audubon Society has changed its name to the Chicago Bird Alliance, mirroring decisions made by activism groups in several other states.

According to a press release, the Chicago Bird Alliance is joining with groups in Detroit, Wisconsin and northern California in changing their name moving forward.

“We’re very proud to be one of the leaders of this movement for a name that is welcoming and inclusive,” the group said in a letter to members.

The calls for the National Audubon Society to change its name occurred due to the legacy of John James Audubon, the namesake of the group. Famed for his work as a naturalist and wildlife illustrator, Audubon was also a slaveholder and a fierce opponent of the abolition of slavery, according to the group, and while they acknowledged that those factors deserved recognition, they argued that the name itself had become synonymous with the protection of bird species in the U.S.

“(He was a) slaveholder with racist views and treatment of Black and Indigenous people,” NAS CEO Elizabeth Gray said.

While the national organization opted to keep the name, numerous local chapters, including the Chicago group, have opted to change their names instead.

The groups will all still be affiliated with the National Audubon Society, according to the release.  

Audubon bought and sold enslaved individuals on several occasions, according to multiple biographies, and was accused of stealing remains from burial sites of Native Americans, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He was also accused of plagiarism and academic fraud in his work as a naturalist, according to the NAS.

“Our chapters believe that bird conservation should center birds and collaboration, rather than celebrate a historical figure that is aligned with systemic racism,” Judy Pollock, president of the Chicago Bird Alliance, said in a statement.

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