Demand University of Penn to return enslaved crania.

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On April 3-4, 2019, the University of Penn held “Penn & Slavery: A Symposium. This was co-hosted by the Penn & Slavery Project and the Program on Race, Science & Society. I attended the two-day series and became more interested in this exploration of Penn’s complicity in slavery. Following this, I was invited to Penn & Slavery Project Spring 2019 Presentations on April 26, 2019.

I appreciate deeply, the work being done by students there and supportive Penn staff and feel moved to call Penn’s leadership to task on something I believe bespeaks a continuance of this complicity.

The University of Penn has contributed and arguably developed a racial science and medicine that we still are oppressed by today. One of the many purveyors of this racial pseudo-science was Dr. Samuel George Morton, who both went to Penn and taught there subsequently.

Dr. Morton's craniometry, studying the size of the skull and posited that it was a way to examine and affirm theories of racial difference.

From Penn & Slavery Project:

Morton published ‘Crania Americana’ in 1839 while a professor at Penn Medical College. The work divides mankind into five distinct races, ranked by supposed intellectual capacity.


Morton writes of the ‘Ethiopian Race:’

‘Characterized by a black complexion… the negro is joyous, flexible and indolent: while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity.’

Currently, The Morton Collection at Penn has possession of crania of enslaved Black people. Morton’s collection is housed at Penn’s Museum, located on the campus of the University.

I am launching this petition to demand the following:

1. Return the crania and other samples of bodily tissue to descendents of the enslaved people.

 a. If unable to locate descendants, Penn must release them to a Black spiritual community in Philadelphia to inter the remains.

2. Penn must immediately issue an apology, both in print and video, through Penn’s President Amy Gutmann.

3. Penn must fund more research and support efforts of the Penn & Slavery Project.

4. Penn must hold a series of sessions to listen and hear from Black Philadelphians about what reparative action or compensation communities want.

If you want to expand or reframe these demands, please email me at: