A rally Thursday organized by Police Free Penn demanded that the Penn Museum repatriate skulls held by the Morton skull collection.
The collection was put together by Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century physician and white supremacist. A report compiled earlier this year for a coalition seeking repatriation of the bones concluded that the remains of about a dozen Black Philadelphians, including some who had formerly been enslaved, are held in the 1,000-skull collection. Dozens more were from enslaved people in Cuba, and an unknown number were obtained via grave robbing.
The museum previously used the skulls in a classroom for instruction, but moved them all into storage in 2020, after objections were raised. The museum also formed a committee to study what to do with the collection, but has not made any proposals.
After objections were raised, the museum had used the skulls in a classroom for instruction but moved them into storage in 2020.
Opponents rallying on Thursday argued that the time has passed for study and the skulls, including those from Philadelphia, should be returned — “repatriated” — to their original communities. In the case of skulls of Philadelphians, that would mean turning them over to community and religious leaders for proper burial.
Most of the remains are from anonymous individuals. The museum says it is waiting for a report from its own committee before making any decisions. That committee is said to have met for the last time this month without yet making any public conclusions.