Bronx zoo operator apologizes for racist African man display in 1906

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

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

The society cited his treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in the current Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“His name was Ota Benga,” said the statement. Bronx Zoo officials “put Ota Benga on display in the zoo’s Monkey House for several days during the week of September 8, 1906 before the outrage from local black ministers quickly ended the embarrassing incident.” .

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

All known records of Ota Benga in the wildlife society are now 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, eugenics-based pseudoscientific writings and philosophies” promoted by two of its founders, Madison Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn, Sr.

Grant wrote 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 “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 executed in 1948.

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

“We deeply regret that many people and generations have been affected by these actions or by our failure to condemn and publicly denounce them,” the statement said. “We recognize that overt and systemic 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 murders that have led to mass protests around the world, We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that social, racial and environmental justice is deeply embedded in our conservation mission. “

The organization also announced that it was hiring a diversity officer to help “secure diverse candidate pools for recruitment, promotion and succession planning, including our board and leadership.”

“Today we challenge ourselves to do better and never look the other way when and where injustice occurs,” the statement said.