The Penn Museum in Philadelphia apologized for collecting the skulls of African Americans. The institution promised to return the remains to their communities.
The museum Morton collection of 1,300 human crania has prompted demonstrations over the past year for its unethical implications, according to a Business Insider article.
Christopher Woods, the museum’s director said Monday in a statement that the museum would renounce control of the skulls. “The Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologize for the unethical possession of human remains in the Morton Collection,” he said.
“It is time for these individuals to be returned to their ancestral communities, wherever possible, as a step toward atonement and repair for the racist and colonial practices that were integral to the formation of these collections.”
Among the remains hold by the Penn Museum are the skulls of at least 12 African-American Philadelphians and dozens of enslaved people from Africa to Cuba, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The museum said in the statement that the remains of African-American Philadelphians will soon be buried at a “historically Black Philadelphia cemetery.”
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The decision to repatriate the skulls follows the publication of an internal report on April 8 that said the museum “should return ancestors to their descendants and communities of origin whenever possible.” The collection of skulls was removed from public view in July 2020, The New York Times reported.
University of Pennsylvania students, which oversees found in 2019 that 55 skulls housed in the Penn Museum collection came from people enslaved in Havana, Cuba, or the US.
The right direction
However, Woods stated that to return the skulls of those enslaved in Cuba could be much complicated. “This one is going to be a bit more complicated because, for a lot of these individuals, the records are terrible or nonexistent,” he told the Inquirer. “It’s uncertain which actually have to go back to Cuba, or probably more likely, West Africa.”
Police Free Penn, a student group that had called on the Penn Museum to relinquish control of the skulls, told the Inquirer that it was a step in the right direction, saying “we’re happy with this commitment to return all remains.”