VCU hopes to memorialize MCV human remains

Chris Suarez
Staff Writer

The human remains of 19th century medical experiments that were found two decades ago under MCV will finally be commemorated sometime in the next two to three years.

The public launch event for community discussion over the remains found beneath the medical campus was set for next month by the East Marshall Street Well Planning Committee on Tuesday night this week.

Announced last year, the East Marshall Street Well Planning Committee was formed after interest in the human remains came to the attention of the public once again. Detailed in the documentary, “When the Well Runs Dry” made by former VCU African American Studies professor Shawn Utley, Ph.D. The remains were uncovered during the construction of the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building across from the Egyptian Building on MCV’s campus in 1994.

Many of the remains uncovered were assessed by the Smithsonian Institution to have been used in medical experiments throughout the 19th century by Hampden-Sydney College, prior to the use of area facilities by the Medical College of Virginia, according to senior assistant to the president, Kevin Allison. Many of those remains, which include severed limbs, dissected bodies and medical equipment, were found to have likely belonged to deceased slaves and African-Americans from the area.

“I want you to help us to ensure that we do the right thing for human beings that lived tragic lives,” said VCU President Michael Rao in his welcome to the committee last year. “Good universities confront these issues. You will help us determine what is the right way for us to have these conversations and what is the best way for us to move forward.”

After a year of several meetings including deliberations and presentations regarding the remains, the committee plans to publicly unveil the intention of creating a memorial and possible scholarship on or near the site of the discovery. Part of the unveiling announcement will include the creation of a steering committee to gather opinions and include local leaders to decide what the memorial will look like.

“There’s not that group we can go to in terms of family members,” Allison said about the remains and the failure to find a genealogy behind them. “The Department of Historic Resources recommended that we have a community process to identify individuals who can stand in that place of the family.”

At Tuesday night’s meeting, organizers from the planning committee, which includes local spiritual, political and government officials agreed to launch a website detailing the committee’s plan to organize a steering committee that will decide how the remains will be reburied and memorialized.

In order to find members who will comprise the steering committee, the planning board decided to host two events during November and December to raise awareness of the issue and to educate others about the socio-historical context of the discovery of the remains.

During the meeting, committee member and Slave Trail Commission director Delegate Delores McQuinn expressed concern over a lack of a definite timeline to complete a memorial at the location.

“I understand protocol for memorial and reburial, but there’s a culture in Richmond where long processes can be seen as overkill, it creates distrust,” McQuinn said. “It becomes a question of “what’s (the commission’s) agenda?””

Considering a timeline, McQuinn said it would be prudent to have a steering committee in place sooner rather than later, and to have an outline of when to complete the project. Citing the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, McQuinn said the city has an opportunity to capitalize on the relevant historic marker.

Looking towards next year, the committee hopes to have organized a steering committee by February or March, according to Allison. The steering committee will choose what to do next, whether that be further archaeological study, reburial and/or a creation of a monument.

No date has been set for the website roll-out or the preliminary announcement event. According to Allison, the committee will decide on a date privately sometime in the next two to three days.

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