Society Apologizes for Putting Black Man in Zoo
Ota Benga: Put on Display in a Zoo as the Missing Link
An Apology Letter from the Wildlife Conservation Society for Supporting the
Major ‘Evidence’ for Human Evolution, namely Racism
by Jerry Bergman, PhD
Better late than never. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) made an attempt to apologize for past racism, but it’s only a weak start. Now, they should attempt to undo the harm they have caused through their past support for the most effective propaganda for human evolution ever produced. I suggest they make a public statement like the following:
‘We apologize for our support for the inferior-race claim that convinced multi-millions of good persons to accept the belief of human evolution from an ape ancestor. We now realize that the main argument used by Darwinists to convince the public of human evolution was the claim of the existence of inferior human races. We now recognize that there are no inferior races, but all men belong to one race, the human race. This acknowledgement will help demolish the historical major support for human evolution.’
Such a broad apology will likely not happen any time soon, but we need to be grateful for the honesty in a printed apology the Wildlife Conservation Society issued on July 29, 2020 for two historic episodes of “unconscionable racial intolerance.” Parts of the apology written by the CEO Cristian Sampler are shown below:
Today is Juneteenth, an historic day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States in 1865… As the United States confronts its legacy of racism … this, too, is an important moment in history to reflect on WCS’s own history…. we must acknowledge and condemn certain dishonorable chapters in the history of our organization … Two stains from our history, in particular, demand attention.
First, we condemn the treatment of a young man from Central Africa’s Mbuti people named Ota Benga, who lived at the Bronx Zoo for a month and was displayed in the Monkey House for several days during the week of September 8, 1906. Crowds of hundreds gaped at this shameful spectacle until public outcry led to Ota Benga being removed from exhibit. This particular degradation began in 1904 when he was brought to the United States forcibly from present-day Democratic Republic of Congo by a disreputable businessman to be exploited at the St. Louis World’s Fair. He left the zoo after a local Black minister, Reverend James Gordon, arranged for him to stay at the orphanage he directed in Weeksville, Brooklyn. Unable to return home to Africa … Ota Benga would tragically take his own life in 1916 in Virginia, a victim of the racism that robbed him of his humanity.
We further condemn bigoted actions and attitudes in the early 1900s toward non-whites—especially African Americans and recent immigrants—that characterized the leadership in the United States at many notable institutions, including our own. Specifically, we condemn and denounce the writings and philosophies advanced by Madison Grant, a founder of the New York Zoological Society (NYZS). To the lasting shame of this institution, Madison Grant authored a book called “The Passing of the Great Race,” a eugenics-based work of pseudoscientific racism [based on Darwinism]. This book, praised by another NYZS founder, Henry Fairfield Osborn, was cited by Nazis on trial at Nuremburg to justify their actions.
Today, we apologize for our organization’s role in these injustices. We deeply regret that many people and generations have been hurt and betrayed by these actions. … and our institution must play a greater role in recognizing this fact and doing more to overcome these challenges.
It is also important to remember that these stories do not represent our values or who we are today.… we work to ensure that social, racial, and environmental justice are deep-rooted in our conservation mission.… Despite the progress we have made, we recognize that we still have much work to do. The recent events and public outcry in the United States and other countries have shaken us to our core, requiring us to take long and hard looks at areas where we can and will do better, and have added greater urgency and a redoubling of our efforts.…
To that end … We will publicly acknowledge the mistakes of our past and be vocal about them with our staff and others. We will take all of the records that we’ve identified related to Ota Benga and make them available online, and we will develop additional projects to make our history accessible and transparent, especially to outside writers and researchers … and reinforce our policies against discrimination based on race … religion…. As the first Latino President and CEO of WCS, and a person born and raised outside the United States, all these issues are important and personal to me.
This apology was, with good reason, widely repeated by the media. Its significance in destroying this major plank in human evolution will, unfortunately, not topple the belief that humans evolved from some ape ancestor. The apology does, however, help us understand why human evolution was initially widely accepted by so-many people. Other evidence was postulated by evolutionists, such as vestigial organs (all of which have now been effectively refuted), homology (now at best a very weak argument for human evolution), and others. Nonetheless, by far, the most persuasive argument for human evolution was the existence of less-evolved humans, especially “Negroes” as they were called then. Illustrations of inferior less-evolved humans were employed in most leading high school and college textbooks, especially in the life sciences. Figures 7 to 12 below are only a small sample that illustrate this fact.
A few fossils were also commonly used to prove the human evolution in the last century, specifically Java Man, Peking Man, Piltdown Man and Neanderthal Man, (as shown in figures 1-6) but the living links between humans and apes were far more effective in selling human evolution. Besides, Java and Peking man were both based on a few fossil fragments that remained controversial from when they were first discovered, and are still controversial today. Piltdown Man was always suspect and was decisively proven to be a forgery in the early 1950s. Neanderthals are now recognized as fully human. Most pre-human fossil examples used to prove human evolution today were not discovered until the late 1960s and all of these are problematic as well.
Use of Racism to Prove Human Evolution
Ota Benga is an excellent example of the use of racism to document human evolution. Actually it is one of the most important historical accounts documenting the deleterious effects of Darwinism. Ota Benga was a pygmy put on display in an American zoo as an example of an evolutionarily inferior race in Africa. When Ota was given to Director Hornaday of the Bronx Zoological Gardens, Hornaday’s intention was clearly to “display” Ota. Hornaday “maintained the hierarchical view of races … the best evolution had to offer.” A committed “believer in the Darwinian theory,” he concluded that there existed “a close analogy of the African savage to the apes.” One professor even suggested that the exhibit should be openly used to help indoctrinate the public in the truth of human evolution:
It is a pity that Dr. Hornaday does not introduce the system of short lectures or talks in connection with such exhibitions. This would emphasize the scientific character of the service, enhance immeasurably the usefulness of the Zoological Park to our public in general, and help our clergymen to familiarize themselves with the scientific point of view so absolutely foreign to many of them. [Bold added in quotes].
Author Rachel Adams wrote that the outrage of the
African Americans is not surprising, for zoo visitors found Ota Benga sharing a cage with Dohong, an orangutan…. In an era when Darwinian theory regularly provided scientific justification for racial prejudice, the exhibit suggested an evolutionary proximity between Africans and apes. Moreover, a conjunction of props and performance associated Ota Benga with the primitive savagery of the freak show wild man: bones were scattered around the floor of the cage, and he was encouraged to charge at the crowds while baring his teeth, which were filed to sharp points as is customary for the Batwa.
A New York Times article responded to the criticism that the display lent credibility to Darwinism by mocking the ministers who believed in creation with the following words: “One reverend colored brother objects to the curious exhibition on the grounds that it is an impious effort to lend credibility to Darwin’s dreadful theories … the reverend colored brother should be told that evolution … is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table.” Another example of exploitation of certain humans is a Scientific American article that explained that modern man
first emerged from the ape in southeastern Asia … Even today, ape-like negroes are found in the gloomy forests, who are doubtless direct descendants of these early types of man, who probably closely resembled their simian ancestors. … Their faces are fairly hairy, with great prognathism, and retreating chins, while in general they are unintelligent and timid, having little tribal cohesion and usually living upon the fringes of higher tribes. Among the latter, individual types of the lower order crop out now and then, indicating that the two were, to a certain extent merged in past ages.
The best example of the use of racism to indoctrinate the public into Darwinism at that time was the plethora of illustrations in textbooks and popular literature. Some of the many examples I have in my collection follow.
The inferior-race claim convinced multi-millions of persons to accept the belief of human evolution from some ape ancestor. Actually, the main argument used by Darwinists to convince the public of human evolution was the claim that inferior human races existed. Scientists now recognize that there are no inferior races, but that all men belong to one race, the human race. This evidence has helped to demolish the main evidence that historically has been used for human evolution.
Fig. 1. An illustration from the leading high school biology textbook An Introduction to Biology (1935) by Professor Edward Loranus Rice.. Boston and New York: Ginn and Company. This was 10 years after the Scopes Trial, and Piltdown Man was still being promoted as a missing link. Note Neanderthal Man is common in these illustrations. Today, Neanderthals are considered fully human. Neanderthal DNA, in fact, has been discovered in the human genome, proving they were interfertile with modern humans and therefore of the same species. Even “Java Man” has been reclassified within the genus Homo, and is considered by many to be human, capable of using fire and making tools and sailing across oceans in designed watercraft.
Figure 2 An article about the American Museum of Natural History Display attempting to document human evolution.
Figure 3. A 23 May 1923 article from Scientific American (page 302), the leading popular science magazine for over a century, using the common evidence for human evolution. Piltdown Man was exposed as a hoax some 40 years after being celebrated as a missing link by leading scientists.
Figure 4. The actual evidence for the manikins shown in Scientific American in the illustration above. Most of the first two skulls are imaginary, made of plaster of Paris.
Figure 5. An illustration of the primary evidence for human evolution from a leading high school biology textbook Elementary Biology: An Introduction to the Science of Life, by Benjamin C. Gruenberg (1919, Boston and New York: Ginn and Company, page 493). The same illustration is in the 1924 edition, also on page 493. Piltdown Man was later repudiated as a hoax.
Fig 6. Comparison of a Negro and a Gorilla. Note the picture of a Hottentot is greatly distorted as is the illustration of the female gorilla in an attempt to document human evolution. From page 253 of Alexander Winchell’s PreAdamite book, 1880. Chicago: Griggs and Company.
Figure 7. An illustration from The Illustrated London News 14 February 1925, page 239. Note the artistic similarity of the chimp profile and the Negro profile. I have hundreds of similar illustrations in my collection.
Figure 8. Cover of Evolution Journal (August 1928) showing evolution from an ape up to modern man and a Negro-appearing man in-between. “Evolution” is in big, bold type – a journal of Nature, which was founded to promote Darwinism.
Figure 9. From the frontispiece from Alexander Winchell’s 1880 PreAdamite book, Chicago: Griggs and Company. All of the races shown were so-called Pre-Adamites, thus not descendants of Adam and Eve, and therefore assumed to be animals.
Figure 10. A 1995 KKK tract [pamphlet, leaflet] quoting leading evolutionists that argue for Negro inferiority. I picked this copy up at a KKK rally in Bryan, Ohio. Notice how these modern racists appeal to what “scientists say.”
Figure 11. The two illustrations, this one and the one below, were side by side in the original source, from pages 12-13 of the Life Magazine book The Epic of Man(1961. New York: Time, Inc.), allegedly showing the clear connection between apes and Negroes.
Figure 12. The two illustrations, this one and the one above, were side by side in the original source, from pages 12-13 of the Life Magazine book The Epic of Man (1961, New York: Time, Inc.), allegedly showing a clear connection between apes and Negroes.
In these days of outrage against racism, scientists need to confess their complicity in giving a “scientific” justification for the worst racist views of the 20th century. Brief apologies in print are not enough. Let them work to change textbooks, journal papers and academic positions that continue their racist tradition, and affirm that all men are created equal. Denouncing the Darwinism behind such a view is undoubtedly a bridge too far for most of them; and they would never utter the deplorable “c-word” creation in favorable light. But as Dr Bergman’s sample illustrations show, scientific racism was very common after Darwin and throughout the 20th century. Its pernicious influence was especially ugly during the 1920s in the era of the Scopes Trial, when the entire secular science community tried to push their racist views as “science” in contrast to the “religious” beliefs of creationists, including black pastors. Their racism continued unabated into the 1960s, when Time-Life Books used artwork portraying the gradual emergence of man from apes, showing alleged primitive men with dark skin and ape-like features. These scientific racists, in our opinion, have never been held accountable for any of this. Now, journals like Nature and Science are giving weak apologies for their involvement in “systemic racism” and sexism, such as the lack of diversity in their ranks. This is mere virtue signalling to appear politically correct. Let pictures like these above be shown throughout the internet to show what they really believed and taught. —Ed.
 WCS: Reckoning with Our Past, Present, and Future. Wildlife Conservation Society, 29 July 2020,
 Borg, Julie. 2020. Cerebral controversies in brain science. World Magazine, August 6. (Wildlife Conservation Society apologizes for racist past.) https://world.wng.org/content/cerebral_controversies_in_brain_science
 Bergman, Jerry and George F. Howe. 1990. “Vestigial Organs” Are Fully Functional: A History and Evaluation of the Vestigial Organ Origins Concept. Terre Haute, IN: Creation Research Society Books; 2019. Useless Organs: The Rise and Fall of the Once Major Argument for Evolution. Tulsa, OK: Bartlett Publishing.
 Bergman, Jerry. 2020. The Minor Planks in Evolution Demolished. Tulsa, OK: Bartlett Publishing. [New book]
 Bergman, Jerry. 2017. Evolution’s Blunders, Frauds and Forgeries. Atlanta, GA: CMI Publishing; 2019. Useless Organs: The Rise and Fall of the Once Major Argument for Evolution. Tulsa, OK: Bartlett Publishing.
 Bergman, Jerry; Peter Line and Jeffrey Tomkins. 2020. Apes as Ancestors: Examining the Claims About Human Evolution. Tulsa, OK: Bartlett Publishing.
 Bergman, et al. 2020.
 See Bergman, Jerry. 2000 Review of Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo by Phillips Verner (1992) in: CRSQ 37(1):46, June; Bergman, Jerry. 1993. “Ota Benga: The Story of the Pygmy On Display in a Zoo!” Ex Nihlio 16(1): 48-50 (summary of the above article); Bergman, Jerry. 1994. “Ota Benga; The Story of an African Pygmy on Display in an American Zoo.” Destiny Magazine 5(1):24-25, December 19; Bergman, Jerry. 1999. “Ota Benga: The Pygmy Put on Display in a Zoo” in: One Blood, Chapter 11, pp. 131-170. Green Forest, AR: Master Books; 2001 Spanish translation, Chapter 10: “Ota Benga: El Pigmeo Puesto en Exhibicion en un Zoologico”, pp. 135-170 in: Una Sangre: La Respuesta Biblica al Racismo; 2001 Russian translation (Printed in Moscow), Chapter 10, pp. 119-150; Bergman, Jerry. 2019. Review of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk (2015) in: Journal of Creation 33(2):175-178.[Journal of Creation only has 127 pages.]
 Verner, Samuel P. 1901. “Development of Africa.” Forum 32:366-382.
 Bradford, Phillips Verner,and Harvey Blume. 1992. Ota Benga; The Pygmy in the Zoo. New York: St. Martin’s Press, p. 176.
 The New York Times. 1906. “Negro Ministers Act to Free the Pygmy.” September 11, p. 2.
 Gabriel, M.S. 1906. “Ota Benga Having a Fine Time: A Visitor at the Zoo Finds No Reason for Protests About the Pygmy.” The New York Times, Thursday, September 13, p. 6.
 Adams, Rachel. 2001. Sideshow U.S.A.: Freaks and the American Cultural Imagination. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, p. 32.
 The New York Times. 12 September 1906, p. 8.
 “Pygmies of the Congo.” Scientific American 93(6):107-108, 5 August 1905, p. 107.
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.