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  • NYS Writers Institute

114 years after putting an African man on display in its Monkey House, zoo issues apology

Paul Grondahl discusses this breaking news story with two-time Writers Institute guest Pamela Newkirk, author of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga

CNN on Thursday:

8:40 PM ET, Thu July 30, 2020

Nigerian Tribune on Friday:

Pamela Newkirk five years ago:

Ota Benga, a young African man, was featured as an exhibit at the St. Louis World's Fair. Two years later, the New York Zoological Gardens displayed him in its Monkey House, caging him with an orangutan. The attraction became an international sensation, drawing thousands of New Yorkers and commanding headlines from across the nation and Europe.

114 years after putting a young man in a cage in a zoo, at times with an orangutan, The Wildlife Conservation Society, which runs The Bronx Zoo, issued a long-overdue formal apology.

“In the name of equality, transparency, and accountability, we must confront our organization’s historic role in promoting racial injustice as we advance our mission to save wildlife and wild places,” the WCS said in a statement posted on its website Wednesday. The statement makes reference to a letter issued to WCS staff on June 19. [ Letter Issued to WCS Staff in the US and Globally ]

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Pamela Newkirk's spoke with Paul Grondahl to discuss the story of Ota Benga, the moral failings of the organization that runs the Bronx Zoo, and her issues with the long-overdue apology.

A former reporter for Albany’s Knickerbocker News (1984-87) and a professor of Journalism at NYU, Pamela shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her work at Newsday. Her previous books include Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media (2000), and Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business (2019). She's a two-time guest of the Writers Institute, having appeared in the Telling the Truth symposium in 2017 and at an event in 2019. We shared a Q&A with Pamela in May.

Follow Pamela at:

As of 5 p.m. Friday, the Wildlife Conservation apology had not been posted on their website nor their Twitter accounts &


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