A step toward ethical stewardship and ongoing repair

An interfaith commemoration for 19 Black Philadelphians whose remains were part of the Morton Cranial Collection will take place at the Penn Museum.

Penn Museum exterior

Nineteen Black Philadelphians whose remains became part of the Samuel G. Morton Cranial Collection in the 19th Century have been respectfully laid to rest at Historic Eden Cemetery. A public interfaith commemoration service will take place on Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Penn Museum, followed by a blessing at the cemetery in Collingdale.

The morning service will be conducted by local spiritual leaders, including the Rev. J. Wendell Mapson Jr.; Imam Kenneth Nuriddin; Jamie Chism; and the Rev. Charles L. Howard, Penn’s chaplain and vice president for Social Equity and Community. Penn Provost John L. Jackson Jr.; Michelle Thornhill, events committee chairperson for Historic Eden; and Christopher Woods, the Penn Museum Williams Director, will also provide remarks.

“This is a very important moment in the Museum’s history and our repair with the community,” says Woods, who joined the Museum in 2021. “It’s about prioritizing human dignity after all of these years.”

The recommendation to lay these individuals to rest at Historic Eden and hold a public memorial service at the Penn Museum was made by the Morton Cranial Collection Community Advisory Group, which was formed two-and-a-half years ago. The Group includes people from Philadelphia community organizations and Penn, as well as spiritual leaders and city officials.

The individuals were part of the Morton Cranial Collection, which was moved to the Penn Museum in 1966 from the Academy of Natural Sciences. Samuel G. Morton was a Philadelphia-based physician and anatomy lecturer who collected human crania to advance his abhorrent, racist views. Leaders at the University, as well as the Penn Museum, have apologized for the unethical possession of human remains in the Morton Collection and have unequivocally rejected scientific racism.

To read more about the Penn Museum’s commitment to ethical stewardship and ongoing actions toward repair, as well as to RSVP for the commemoration service and blessing, visit www.penn.museum/about-collections/statements-and-policies/morton-cranial-collection.