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Bronx Zoo operator apologizes for racist display of African man in 1906



The operator of the venerable Bronx Zoo, one of the world’s most famous wildlife parks, has apologized for two “unthinkable” racist episodes in its past, including putting an African man on display in some monkey in 1906.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs the Bronx Zoo in addition to three other zoos and an aquarium in New York City, said in a statement this week that in the name of “equality, transparency, and accountability, we must face historical role of our organization in promoting racial injustice. “

The society quoted her treatment by a Central African youth from the Mbuti people in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ota Benga around 1
915.
Library of Congress through AP

“His name was Ota Benga,” the statement said. Bronx Zoo officials “put Ota Benga on display at the Monkey Zoo for several days during the week of September 8, 1906 before the outrage by local Black ministers quickly brought about the outrageous incident. “

One of those ministers, the Rev. James Gordon, “arranged for Ota Benga to sit in an orphanage he ordered in Weeksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Stolen from his humanity and unable to return home,” Ota Benga died by suicide a decade later.

All known records about Ota Benga in the wildlife society are now being made available online as part of an effort to “publicly acknowledge the mistakes of our past,” the statement said.

The organization, founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, also denounced the “racism, writings, and pseudoscientific philosophies based on eugenics” advanced by two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn. , Sr.

Grant penned an infamous eugenics book, “The Passage of the Great Race,” with a preface by Osborn.

The book was presented as a defense exhibition for Nazi doctor Karl Brandt, director of the Third Reich’s “euthanasia” program, and other defendants at the Nuremberg trials.

Brandt, who was also Adolf Hitler’s personal physician, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in 1947 and put to death in 1948.

The wildlife society said in its statement, which was first reported by The New York Times, that it is obliged to confront these episodes.

“We are very sorry that many people and generations have been hurt by these actions or because of our failure to previously condemn and denounce them publicly,” the statement said. “We recognize that systematic and ongoing racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role in confronting it. As the United States addresses its legacy of anti-Black racism and the brutal killings that led to the Mass protests around the world, we reaffirm Our commitment to ensuring that social, racial and environmental justice are deeply rooted in our conservation mission. “

The organization also announced that it was hiring a diversity officer to help “ensure different sets of candidates for recruitment, promotion, and succession planning, including our board and leadership.”

“Today we are challenging ourselves to do better and to never look away whenever and wherever injustice occurs,” the statement said.


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