The Audubon Naturalist Society, one of the oldest independent environmental groups in the Chesapeake Bay region, announced it will be changing its name to distance itself from its namesake, John James Audubon.

“The deliberate and thoughtful decision to change our name is part of our ongoing commitment to creating a larger and more diverse community of people who treasure the natural world and work to preserve it,” said Lisa Alexander, executive director of ANS. “It has become clear that this will never be fully possible with the current name.”

A participant in the 2020 Taking Nature Black conference, hosted by the Audubon Naturalist Society, pauses in the woods during a sunrise walk and meditation session. (Cheriss May, courtesy of the Audubon Naturalist Society) Cheriss May

Audubon was a 19th-century naturalist and artist whose portraits of birds both exotic and mundane captured the country’s imagination. But he also was a slaveholder and fierce opponent of abolition.

His name went on to grace the letterheads of hundreds of environmental groups, including the National Audubon Society (ANS, based in Chevy Chase, MD, is not affiliated with the national organization). Many of those groups are now grappling with that legacy as part of a larger effort to diversify their staff and better connect with people of color.

ANS leaders said they will choose a new name after seeking input from a broad range of voices.

This article was originally published on on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

Jeremy Cox

Jeremy Cox is a Bay Journal staff writer based in Maryland.

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