Museum Apologizes for Collecting Skulls of Black Americans, Says It Will Return Remains to Their Communities

The Penn Museum at University of PennsylvaniaThe Penn Museum at University of Pennsylvania
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Penn Museum will put together a committee exploring options for reburial in a historically Black Philadelphia cemetery.

A Pennsylvania museum is apologizing for collecting skulls of Black Americans and promised to return the remains to their communities, according to Insider.

Philadelphia’s Penn Museum has 1,300 human skulls housed in its Morton Collection. Among them are the remains of at least 12 Black Americans and dozens of enslaved people from Africa and Cuba, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The museum has faced demonstrations over its collection over the past year, Insider reported, leading the museum’s director to issue an apology and announce plans to return the remains.

"The Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologize for the unethical possession of human remains in the Morton Collection," Penn Museum Director Chris Woods said in a statement Monday. “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."

Woods, who just became the director of the museum on April 1, added that the museum will reassess its practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying and researching humans, according to CBS News.

Woods says that the recent demonstrations across America for civil rights and justice for Black Americans made the museum reexamine holding these remains.

“It was the direct result of the killing of George Floyd, the rise of Black Lives Matter,” Woods said. “This is what brought this issue to the forefront.”

The Morton Collection of skulls was assembled in the 19th century by Dr. Samuel Morton, who, according to WHYY, used them in an attempt to find an anthropological basis for white supremacy. He died in 1851.

In 1966, the collection was moved to the Penn Museum, where researchers used it to study the effects of diet, trauma, and disease on human anatomy, WHYY said.