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

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  release-the-kraken  •  6 days ago  •  25 comments

By:   David K. Li (NBC News)

Bronx Zoo operator apologizes for racist display of African man in 1906
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which operates the Bronx Zoo, apologized for two racist episodes, including placing an African man on display in a monkey house in 1906.

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The operator of the venerable Bronx Zoo, one of the world's most famous wildlife parks, has apologized for two "unconscionable" racist episodes in its past, including placing an African man on display in a monkey house 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 confront our organization's historic role in promoting racial injustice."

The society cited its treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ota Benga circa 1915.Library of Congress via AP

"His name was Ota Benga," the statement said. 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 outrage from local Black ministers quickly brought the disgraceful incident to an end."

One of those ministers, the Rev. James Gordon, "arranged for Ota Benga to stay at an orphanage he directed in Weeksville, Brooklyn," the statement said. "Robbed of his humanity and unable to return home," Ota Benga died by suicide a decade later.

Harvey Blume, who co-authored the 1992 book "Ota Benga: The Pygmy At The Zoo," said the zoo's apology is too little and too late.

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"And to whom was this apology? It's a little late for Ota," Blume told NBC News on Friday.

All known records about Ota Benga at the wildlife society are now being made available online as part of an effort to "publicly acknowledge the mistakes of our past," the Wildlife Conservation Society's statement said.

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

Grant penned an infamous eugenics book, "The Passing of the Great Race," with a preface by Osborn.

The book was submitted as a defense exhibit 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 physician, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in 1947 and put to death in 1948.

"Back in that day, science and anthropology were based on explicitly racist principles," Blume said. "That there was a hierarchy of races, culminating with the white race on top, looking down."

The role once-respected scholars played in propping up debunked 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 co-authored "Ota Benga: The Pygmy At The Zoo" with the late Phillips Verner Bradford, grandson of the man who purchased Ota Benga in Africa and brought him to America.

"These were not Nazis, but in some ways they were too."

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

"We deeply regret that many people and generations have been hurt by these actions or by our failure previously to publicly condemn and denounce them," the statement said.

"We recognize that overt and systemic racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role to confront it. As the United States addresses its legacy of anti-Black racism and the brutal killings that have led to mass protests around the world, we reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that social, racial, and environmental justice are deep-rooted in our conservation mission."

The organization also announced it was hiring a diversity officer to help "ensure diverse pools of candidates for recruitment, promotion, and succession planning, including our board and leadership."

"Today we challenge ourselves to do better and to never look away whenever and wherever injustice occurs," the statement said.


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Release The Kraken
1  seeder  Release The Kraken    6 days ago

Hopefully one of our older members who saw this exhibit will chime in.

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
1.1  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Release The Kraken @1    6 days ago

I am one of the older members, but as this happened 114 years ago, I am not old enough.

 
 
 
Release The Kraken
1.1.1  seeder  Release The Kraken  replied to  Paula Bartholomew @1.1    6 days ago

jrSmiley_9_smiley_image.gif

We have a few old timers here. This place is like a WW2 reunion at times...LOL

 
 
 
Paula Bartholomew
1.1.2  Paula Bartholomew  replied to  Release The Kraken @1.1.1    6 days ago

Mine would have to be a Desert Storm reunion.

 
 
 
MonsterMash
1.2  MonsterMash  replied to  Release The Kraken @1    4 days ago
Hopefully one of our older members who saw this exhibit will chime in.

I'm pretty sure NT doesn't have any members over 114

 
 
 
Greg Jones
2  Greg Jones    5 days ago

"We recognize that overt and systemic racism persists, and our institution must play a greater role to confront it. 

Actually it does not exist to any great extent, regardless of what some would have us believe.

The racist drums are being beaten and racists cards are being played by the left 24/7, from reasons too obvious and overt to mention here.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
2.1  JohnRussell  replied to  Greg Jones @2    5 days ago

You are still promoting the racist birther conspiracy theory that was disproven 11 or 12 years ago,  so I don't think anyone will be taking your advice about race relations. 

 
 
 
CB
2.2  CB   replied to  Greg Jones @2    5 days ago

Too obvious and too overt? Or, just would get your 'mouth' in trouble for mentioning the quiet parts out loud?

 
 
 
Tacos!
3  Tacos!    5 days ago

OK so this clearly was an awful and shameful event, but were people really waiting around for an apology for something that happened in 1906?

Harvey Blume, who co-authored the 1992 book "Ota Benga: The Pygmy At The Zoo," said the zoo's apology is too little and too late.

Oh stop! It's not a very brave or controversial stand to take - being in opposition to putting a human being on display at the zoo. I'm pretty sure we're all on board. When we talk about virtue signaling, this is the kind of thing we are talking about. Can we soon expect a call for somebody's resignation? Reparations? Maybe we need a national dialogue?

 
 
 
CB
3.1  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3    5 days ago

The zoo, in this case, sees fit to right a wrong in its history? What makes you think 'everybody is on board' with not putting a human being on display at a zoo in the future? Donald Trump is fighting not to lose the confederate flag as a symbol. Of what, exactly is Trump (or flag supporters proud of)?

In this case, the apology would be emblematic of the Bronx Zoo signaling we get it, we disarm, we no longer wish to be thought of as not 'repenting' of the idiocy of not knowing a human boy or man anywhere we find one in the world. Apology accepted. Now then, if the family made "institutional" wealth off this man's misery; pay the family a chunk of it with interest.

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.1  Tacos!  replied to  CB @3.1    5 days ago
What makes you think 'everybody is on board' with not putting a human being on display at a zoo in the future?

I have more faith in people than you do, I guess.

Donald Trump is fighting not to lose the confederate flag as a symbol. Of what, exactly is Trump (or flag supporters proud of)?

Please don't try to talk to me about Donald Trump. Why don't you focus on the topic?

In this case, the apology would be emblematic of the Bronx Zoo signaling we get it,

Nothing wrong with that. I didn't say I had a problem with the apology. I think it's strange. No one alive was connected to the doing of it or was victimized by it. Therefore, I wonder at the need for - or point of - an apology. Acknowledgment? Sure. Absolutely. But apology? If it makes them feel better, fine, I guess. Seems more token than anything.

Apology accepted.

Not by Harvey Blume, apparently. 

 
 
 
CB
3.1.2  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.1    5 days ago

You can be glib all you want, and I will push-back on it. This is not about faith in people. This is about what people of the period thought and acted to do:

The Society cited its treatment of a young Central African man from the Mbuti people in the present-day Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ota Benga circa 1915.Library of Congress via AP

"His name was Ota Benga," the statement said. 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 outrage from local Black ministers quickly brought the disgraceful incident to an end."

My question: Why didn't the Society put a white person in a Monkey House for any unspecified period of time? Perceptions of the period. White boys and men did not 'belong' in the wild or imprisonment.

Well, Mbuti people do not belong in the wild or cages either.

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 confront our organization's historic role in promoting racial injustice."

You say, "No one alive was connected to the doing of it or was victimized by it."  

How do you plan to prove this statement? Is "the Society" still in operation? Are institutions made up of people?

You mentioned virtue signaling. Well, virtual signaling is about seeking the right presentation in order to move forward. The institution in this moment in time wants to express its individual change of heart about an extant festering matter from its past injustice (and all that came because and after) to a group of human beings.

The Society took this opportunity (this climate) to issued its apology. All we onlookers need do is acknowledge it. The Society should look for ways and means to make recompense, because as it further acknowledges, the institution can not self-correct or speak of correction in others while the 'festering mark' staining its history is left undone.

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.3  Tacos!  replied to  CB @3.1.2    5 days ago
Why didn't the Society put a white person in a Monkey House for any unspecified period of time?

I'm guessing - because they didn't tell me - but I would say it's because 1) they were racist and 2) there was a lot of entertainment money to be made with sideshow freaks. That concept was developed spectacularly by Barnum.

I assume the real reason he was on display was because he unusually small, and not mainly because he was black. Ota Benga was Mbuti, and the Mbuti are pygmies. Adults average about 4 and a half feet tall. From what I read, Ota Benga was 4'11" - still pretty short for a full grown man.

"No one alive was connected to the doing of it or was victimized by it."   How do you plan to prove this statement?

Math. And knowledge of human physiology. It was 1906. It is now 2020. According to Wiki, there are 8 people alive on planet Earth who were also alive in 1906. They were all newborns or toddlers at the time. Anyone who had a part in the decision to put Ota Benga on display would have been adult age in 1906, and is obviously long dead. Anybody who saw him and was old enough to appreciate what they were seeing is long dead. His family had been killed in Africa before he was brought to America, so he left no one behind.

Why didn't the Society put a white person in a Monkey House for any unspecified period of time?

They might have if he had other physical characteristics that made him unique enough to sell tickets. There have been many white "freaks" on display over the years.

Mbuti people do not belong in the wild

What does that mean? Many people around the world still live a primitive existence in "the wild." No one forced them to live like that. It's how they have lived for, I don't know, thousands of years? Who are you to say they don't belong there? What do you want to do? Force them all to live in the city?

Well, virtual signaling is about seeking the right presentation in order to move forward.

Then you misunderstand what virtue signaling is. Virtue signaling is:

the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.

Emphasis on "demonstrate." People do it for the approval, not the justice. Not because something needs doing or because it's the right thing, but for the prestige.

Understand something: I didn't respond to the zoo's apology with the accusation of virtue signaling. I responded to the comments by Harvey Blume. His outrage and dissatisfaction is the virtue signaling. Although, now that I consider it, there probably is some virtue signaling in the zoo's apology.

The Society took this opportunity (this climate) to issued its apology. All we onlookers need do is acknowledge it. 

Don't tell me. I do acknowledge it. (I just question the necessity of it.) But tell Harvey Blume. He says it's too little and too late. He says it because he wants you to know what a sensitive soul he is and approve of him. And maybe sell more copies of his book. Blume is neither black nor Mbuti. He's just an old, woke, white guy flexing his moral superiority.

 
 
 
CB
3.1.4  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.3    5 days ago
I assume the real reason he was on display was because he unusually small, and not mainly because he was black. Ota Benga was Mbuti, and the Mbuti are pygmies. Adults average about 4 and a half feet tall. From what I read, Ota Benga was 4'11" - still pretty short for a full grown man.

The Society is not apologizing for Ota's "unusual height" (see article) and the black ministers objected on moral grounds to the Monkey House display (where the monkey's dwell):

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 outrage from local Black ministers quickly brought the disgraceful incident to an end."

There is your real reason they perceived him as 'wild' and "capitalizable" The institution never publicly apologized for doing a human being this way. They self-corrected. Present tense: Are seeking to fix that.

 
 
 
CB
3.1.5  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.3    4 days ago
What does that mean? Many people around the world still live a primitive existence in "the wild." No one forced them to live like that. It's how they have lived for, I don't know, thousands of years? Who are you to say they don't belong there? What do you want to do? Force them all to live in the city?

Perhaps you need a better understanding of 'the Wild.' It is meant for animals in this context. Thus, the need for a staging a cage. When not on display, where do you suppose Ota was required to exist? Anyway, you are just fighting the message and the Society's need to apologize. They explain motivations and purposes quite well.

 
 
 
CB
3.1.6  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.3    4 days ago
Then you misunderstand what virtue signaling is. Virtue signaling is:
the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.

Emphasis on "demonstrate." People do it for the approval, not the justice. Not because something needs doing or because it's the right thing, but for the prestige.

Understand something: I didn't respond to the zoo's apology with the accusation of virtue signaling. I responded to the comments by Harvey Blume. His outrage and dissatisfaction is the virtue signaling. Although, now that I consider it, there probably is some virtue signaling in the zoo's apology.

You can question the Society's motive all you wish. You have no proof that they are doing this now (and observe) that they are apologizing to Jews as well at this advent. A 'two-fer' a century in the making! Just as this nation is apologizing for Jim Crow, the Confederacy, and a 'host' of dirty, weird, terrorist activities leveled at the minds, bodies, children, and generations of black people in the United States.

Somebody ought to not have done it. Somebody ought to have ceased and desisted, apologized before, and made restitution accordingly! Black people, for your information, did not need 'ghettos' to clutter in or "projects" to pretend to live "elevated." Black people, and I imagine Jewish people simply wanted acceptance to be black and Jewish.

Virtual signaling: the action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one's good character or the moral correctness of one's position on a particular issue.

The definition above does not incline itself to negative self-interest. However, right-wing sites tend to cast words and phrases in their own image and for their own purposes. I am well aware of that "treatment' of words.

I do not accept the presumption that you know why the Society is apologizing now. You will have to prove your version of a pretense and hoodwinking by this institution. Present some evidence to support your derogatory statement. Other than that, it is just you questioning what you know not!

 
 
 
CB
3.1.7  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.3    4 days ago
Don't tell me. I do acknowledge it. (I just question the necessity of it.) But tell Harvey Blume. He says it's too little and too late. He says it because he wants you to know what a sensitive soul he is and approve of him. And maybe sell more copies of his book. Blume is neither black nor Mbuti. He's just an old, woke, white guy flexing his moral superiority.

I'm a black male and 'woke.' I had not heard of the Society. That is not unusual either. As people we learn from each other when we are open to doing so. Heavens, we are learning right here on NT daily. Something we did not know before (as aforementioned). So Blume is not the issue. The issue here is the participants involved in the narrative, not its messenger.

You do see to self-righteously question the motives of your perceived enemies routinely. It's a bad practice and I recommend a different way of opining.

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.8  Tacos!  replied to  CB @3.1.6    4 days ago
I do not accept the presumption that you know why the Society is apologizing now.

I never said I knew why. You keep focusing on something that was not really the topic of my initial comment.

You will have to prove your version of a pretense and hoodwinking by this institution.

Wow! I definitely never said anything about hoodwinking. I have nothing to prove with regard to the zoo. Why do you engage in this fantasy-making?

Present some evidence to support your derogatory statement.

I didn't make a derogatory statement, so you're out of luck.

Other than that, it is just you questioning what you know not!

As usual, you are pushing an argument no one is making. Why are you looking for a problem?

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.9  Tacos!  replied to  CB @3.1.7    4 days ago
So Blume is not the issue.

It was for me. I mentioned him in my original comment. Is that so hard to grasp?

You do see to self-righteously question the motives of your perceived enemies routinely.

This is so far over the deep end of imagination, I don't even know where to begin. Let's start with my "perceived enemies." Why would I have any enemies in this story? Hmm? Exactly who do you imagine my perceived enemies are? What a WEIRD thing to say!

It's a bad practice and I recommend a different way of opining.

[deleted]

 
 
 
Texan1211
3.1.10  Texan1211  replied to  Tacos! @3.1.9    4 days ago

Every topic imaginable is fodder for the "I Hate Trump" brigade.

 
 
 
CB
3.1.11  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.8    4 days ago

[ deleted ]

So here you are presently questioning why anyone should apologize as you put it:

@ 3 I'm pretty sure we're all on board. When we talk about virtue signaling, this is the kind of thing we are talking about. Can we soon expect a call for somebody's resignation? Reparations? Maybe we need a national dialogue?

Evidentially, you do not see the need for the Society making an official statement about its past institutional racist practices. You imply they should just go forward without publicly saying sorry. Well, the company must answer. Because:

(1.) Blume wrote about this racist occasion it in a book, publicly .

(2.) A cultural shift is taking place in the United States at long last.

(3.) It would be wise to get out and ahead of the exposure of past racist dealings and practices.

(4.) It puts current institutional staffing on notice that (racist) practices, if persisting presently, are to cease and desist.

Apologies are good 'washings' for the conscience and soul of an institution and its individuals. That's positive. It's self-correcting. It helps right matters between factured parties.

BTW, the Smithsonian Magazine writes (excerpt):

In March 1904, an American, S.P. Verner, found Ota Benga in a slave market. Verner had come to Africa to collect pygmies for the St. Louis World’s Fair. He bought Ota Benga’s freedom and convinced him and, later, eight other pygmies from a tribe called the Batwa to come to St. Louis. The pygmies took up residence in the anthropology exhibit, next to a group of Native Americans that included t he legendary Geronimo .
Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-tragic-tale-of-the-pygmy-in-the-zoo-2787905/

Maybe some group owes the Indian people an apology (and more) too?

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.12  Tacos!  replied to  CB @3.1.11    4 days ago
Apologies are good 'washings' for the conscience and soul of an institution and its individuals. That's positive. It's self-correcting.

That's fine. If it makes the people at the zoo (who played no part in the matter) feel better to apologize to dead people, then God bless them. But where does Harvey Blume get off saying it's too little too late? Who is he to judge or to complain? They made an apology nobody was waiting for and he's unsatisfied with it. I don't see how that's justified.

I don't have it wrong. Trumpism, that is, Trump supporters, never apologizes.

[deleted]

 
 
 
CB
3.1.13  CB   replied to  Tacos! @3.1.9    4 days ago
This is so far over the deep end of imagination, I don't even know where to begin. Let's start with my "perceived enemies." Why would I have any enemies in this story? Hmm? Exactly who do you imagine my perceived enemies are? What a WEIRD thing to say!

This article is not a "routine." You do this kind of one-sided relationship on "many" NT articles I read. I just am pointing it out to you. Maybe you hadn't noticed? Donald Trump is the president of the United States who is pervasive everywhere on many varied subject matters. He is our most over-saturated president ever!

However, if you don't like that I bring him up then why can't you at the least state that he needs to cease speaking and tweeting to his heart's contentment?  Instead of telling me not to address his many intrusions into our daily lives?

 
 
 
Texan1211
3.1.14  Texan1211  replied to  CB @3.1.13    4 days ago

Seriously, what does your President have to do with this story or article?

 
 
 
Tacos!
3.1.15  Tacos!  replied to  Texan1211 @3.1.14    4 days ago

It's like talking to the wall.

 
 
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