A Reckoning: the symbolic descendants of 19th-century Richmond’s whose corpses were stolen for surgical training and dissection call for further study, memorialization and burial

By Tina Griego, Richmond Magazine

Ten Richmond citizens were assigned to act as “symbolic descendants” for the people whose bones were found in a mid-19th century well on the Virginia Commonwealth University medical campus. These corpses were stolen and dissected by the medical school, and were majority black and had most likely been enslaved. VCU administrators had asked the “symbolic descendants” guidance on what best to do with the bones.

“There are a lot of overlapping concerns about what has been mutually polarizing in Richmond, and a lot of it stems from this horrible history that’s connected to a culture of how people have done business at the expense of human beings,” family council member Lillie A. Estes says. “We need to acknowledge that trauma that has revisited people over and over. There is no shame in acknowledging that trauma. Now, once we acknowledge it, we have to figure out what to do with it … We need to teach people the truth and move forward.”

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