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In the early 1800s, Dr. Samuel Morton and his associates unethically collected hundreds of skulls of deceased Black men and women as part of a racist project to prove white superiority.
The cranial collection was originally housed in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, but was transferred to the Penn Museum in 1966, where parts of the collection were put on display.
Three years ago, the museum formally apologized for accepting the collection and announced it will no longer display any exposed human remains.
On Saturday morning, an interfaith commemoration service was held at the museum to honor and lay to rest the remains of 19 Black Philadelphians that were part of the collection.
The New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir performed a musical interlude. (David Matthau/WHYY)
Rev. Charles Lattimore Howard, the University of Pennsylvania chaplain and vice president for social equity and community, said there is deep resentment and anger at the way in which Black bodies were stolen and disrespected.
“And yet as a minister I also feel gratitude and some relief for the fact that our elder siblings can finally be laid to rest,” he said.
A vocal offering by The Inspiration A Cappella, U. of Penn. (David Matthau/WHYY)
But some community members disagree with Penn Museum’s actions. The Black Philadelphians Descendant Community Group opposed the burial. The group has joined forces with several anthropologists and historians to form an organization called Finding Ceremony.
They are now doing their own research, insisting Penn Museum has not adequately studied the history of the remains.