Following the Burial of the Remains of 19 Black Philadelphians, UPenn Has Come Under Fire

( — People around the world and throughout history have sought answers to scientific questions, and in their quest for knowledge, they have created ugly situations that modern people are still trying to rectify to this day. One such scientist was Samuel Morton, born in 1799, whose theories about humanity and racial differences have long since been discarded. In his search for proof of his theories, he collected over 1,000 human skulls from people of various ethnicities from around the world.

This collection of skulls was housed at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as of 1966. In recent years, many museums have been reevaluating their collections, both of artifacts and of human remains. Realizing that the collection included the skulls of 19 black Philadelphians, of unknown identities, the museum formed a committee to arrange an appropriate burial for them. A twentieth skull was identified as belonging to a porter named John Voorhees, whose mother was Native American. His remains will be handled separately under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The committee decided on the above-ground mausoleum internment so that if more information comes to light, the remains may be removed and returned to their descendants. On January 22, they were quietly interred at the historically black Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. A few days later, on February 3 there was an interfaith ceremony with hymns, prayers, and a drum processional. Several university officials offered apologies for the sordid history of Morton’s skull collection.

Not everyone was happy about the burial, though. The activist group Finding Ceremony believes that the museum has no right to make decisions about the remains. They claim that the decision should be made by the black community of Philadelphia. Some claim to identify as descendants of the unidentified people whose skulls were housed in the museum. It is unclear at this time if they will push to have the remains removed and turned over to their group. Charles Howard, the university chaplain and vice president for social equity and community, commented that he understands and has empathy for the objections and that he believes everyone who has been working towards respecting the dead in this situation has their heart in the right place.

Copyright 2024,