The Golden Gate Audubon Society will drop the “Audubon” from its name in an effort to sever ties from its namesake slave owner, the organization announced Monday.

John James Audubon’s history as an opponent of abolition, owner of slaves and robber of Native American graves prompted the nonprofit’s membership to vote last week to select a new name at a future date.

The bird conservation organization, the ninth largest Audubon chapter in the U.S., said 65 percent of voting members decided for the name change.

“The challenges facing Bay Area birds in the 21st century are greater than ever and we need a name that will help us build the broadest coalition possible to protect them,” Executive Director Glenn Phillips said.

The membership vote came less than a month after a decision by the Golden Gate Audubon Board of Directors to recommend removing “Audubon” from the organization’s title.

Part of a nationwide trend

The vote comes in the wake of concerns by Audubon groups across the country regarding their namesake’s suitability as a figurehead.

Several independent Audubon chapters have dropped the “Audubon” name, despite National Audubon’s decision to retain it. Those chapters include New York, Chicago, Portland, Madison, and the newly re-named organizations Birds Connect Seattle and Birds Connect Washington D.C.

The National Audubon Society’s website includes a page titled “John James Audubon: A complicated history.”

Ivory-billed Woodpeckers appear in an illustration by John James Audubon from the 1820s. (Wikipedia image, CC0)

“His contributions to ornithology, art, and culture are enormous, but he was a complex and troubling character who did despicable things even by the standards of his day,” according to the National Audubon website.

Audubon, who lived from 1785-1851, enslaved Black people and criticized emancipation. He also “stole human remains and sent the skulls to a colleague who used them to assert that whites were superior to non-whites,” according to the national nonprofit.

Golden Gate Board President Eric Schroeder said the name change will be part of the organization’s efforts to be more inclusive.

A committee made up of Golden Gate Audubon board of directors, staff, and members will solicit community input and ultimately propose a new name. The organization will hold a member vote on a new name at its next annual members meeting on Aug. 17.

The Golden Gate Audubon Society was founded in 1917, has more than 3,000 members, and is dedicated to protecting native birds and other wildlife species in the San Francisco Bay Area, particularly in San Francisco and western Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

The area covered includes San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda, Albany, El Cerrito, Richmond, Orinda, Moraga, Piedmont, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Kensington, and Treasure Island.