The operator of the venerable Bronx Zoo, one of the most famous wildlife parks in the world, has apologized in the past for two “incomprehensible” racist episodes, including the exhibition of an African man in a monkey house in 1906.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo along with three other zoos and an aquarium in New York City, said in a statement this week that we must face the historical role of our organization in the name of equality, transparency and accountability Promote racial injustice. “
The company quoted the treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“His name was Ota Benga,” the statement said. Bronx Zoo officials “spent several days in the zoo’s ape house during the week of September 8, 1906, before the outrage from local black ministers quickly brought the disgraceful incident to an end.”
One of these ministers, Rev. James Gordon, “caused Ota Benga to stay in an orphanage he ran in Weeksville, Brooklyn,” the statement said. “Deprived of his humanity and unable to return home,” Ota Benga died a decade later by suicide.
Harvey Blume, who co-wrote the book “Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo” in 1992, said that the zoo’s apology was too little and too late.
“And who was that excuse for? It’s a bit late for Ota,” Blume told NBC News on Friday.
All known records of Ota Benga in the Wildlife Society are now made available online to “publicly acknowledge our past mistakes,” the Wildlife Conservation Society statement said.
The organization, founded in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society, also denounced the “eugenics-based, pseudoscientific racism, scriptures, and philosophies” that two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr., put forward.
Grant wrote a notorious eugenics book entitled “The Death of the Great Race” with a foreword by Osborn.
The book was submitted as a defense exhibition for Nazi doctor Karl Brandt, a director of the Third Reich’s “euthanasia” program, and other defendants in the Nuremberg trials.
Brandt, who was also Adolf Hitler’s personal doctor, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in 1947 and killed in 1948.
“Back then, science and anthropology were based on explicitly racist principles,” said Blume. “That there was a hierarchy of races that culminated with the white race at the top and looked down.”
The role that once respected scholars played in supporting exposed scientific theories to justify white supremacy has been overlooked for far too long, according to the author.
“Madison Grant was one of Hitler’s favorite authors,” said Blume, who wrote “Ota Benga: The Pygmy at the Zoo” with the late Phillips Verner Bradford, the grandson of the man who bought Ota Benga in Africa and brought it to America.
“They weren’t Nazis, but in a way they were.”
The Wildlife Society said in its statement, first reported by the New York Times, that it is committed to facing these episodes.
“We deeply regret that many people and generations have been injured by these acts or by our failure to publicly condemn and denounce them,” the statement said.
“We recognize that open and systemic racism persists and our institution needs to play a bigger role in countering it. Because the United States has inherited racism against the blacks and the brutal murders that have led to mass protests around the world , address, we reaffirm this. Our commitment to social, racist and ecological justice is deeply rooted in our nature conservation mission. “
The organization also announced that it would hire a diversity officer to “ensure different pools of candidates for recruitment, promotion, and succession planning, including our board and leadership.”
“Today we challenge ourselves to do better and never look away whenever and wherever injustices occur,” the statement said.