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Seattle Audubon changes name, severing tie to slave owner

Ed Ronco

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Audubon is changing its name to Birds Connect Seattle to move away from a name with a racist legacy.

The Seattle chapter said Tuesday the name change is one step toward creating a more inclusive and anti-racist organization, The Seattle Times reported. The organization said the concept of “connection” came up throughout the renaming process and that birds connect across families, hemispheres and habitats.

Birds Connect Seattle announced last year that it would change its name because of its connection to John James Audubon, a naturalist known for his watercolor paintings of birds and for whom many Audubon societies are named. Audubon also owned, sold and bought enslaved African Americans through his general store in Kentucky and was a staunch opponent of abolition.

“Rather than a barrier, this new name represents an open door for communities to join us in our mission to advocate and organize for cities where people and birds thrive," Executive Director Claire Catania said in a statement Tuesday.

The new name announcement comes after the National Audubon Society, the country’s leading bird conservation group, announcedearlier this month that after feedback and deliberations it would keep the name.

Elizabeth Gray, who became the first female CEO of the National Audubon Society in 2021, said in a statement that the board of directors “decided that the organization transcends one person’s name.”

Several other groups have said they will change their name, including Portland Audubon in Oregon and Chicago Audubon Society.

Birds Connect Seattle said its mission is to be inclusive, with active efforts to reach out to diverse communities and to promote more inclusive programming, hiring and recruiting practices, as well as within its advocacy work.

J. Drew Lanham, a former board member of the National Audubon Society and a wildlife ecology professor at Clemson University, told The Seattle Times it’s essential to address the reality and consequences of namesakes.

More critical, he said, is the commitment to substantive mission and action change, and he applauded the Seattle group for making the hard but necessary decisions “for the long haul.”

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