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Members of the Elegba Folklore Society lead a procession from the Kontos building on the VCU medical campus to the adjacent Egpytian Building at Wednesday night's ceremony.
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A member of the Elegba Folklore Society plays a Kora during a procession from the Kontos building to the adjacent Egyptian Building at Wednesday night's ceremony on VCU's medical campus.
After 20 years in limbo, human remains uncovered during a Virginia Commonwealth University construction project are on track to be properly memorialized.
A ceremony held Wednesday night at the Hermes A. Kontos Medical Sciences Building on the medical campus saw members of the university’s administration and its East Marshall Street Well Project Planning Committee lay out steps both will take to “restore dignity” to the remains. A scholarship will be established for medical students who prioritize helping under-served demographics and communities.
“The life-changing and life saving work of these students will forever be the legacy of those individuals lost in the well a century and a half ago,” says Quincy Byrdsong, the associate vice president for health sciences at the university who works with the planning committee.
Dancers and drummers of the Elegba Folklore Society led a procession of about 75 people from the Kontos building’s lobby into the adjacent Egyptian Building, where members of the planning committee and VCU President Michael Rao addressed attendees.
“We are not proud of the circumstances surrounding these human remains,” says Rao, adding that the university accepts “full responsibility” for the initial treatment of the unearthed bones.
Rao, whose tenure as president began in 2009, was one of several speakers to acknowledge the previous administration’s mishandling of the remains, which were discovered during the 1994 construction of the Kontos building at 1217 E. Marshall St. Construction did not halt, as common sense and archaeological standards would dictate, when the remains were discovered by workers operating heavy machinery.
Rao apparently did not know that the remains existed until a 2011 documentary produced by VCU psychology professor Shawn Utsey brought them to his attention.
Analysis at the Smithsonian Institution has determined the remains were likely discarded between 1840 and 1860, and belonged to people of African descent – slaves. Stakeholders believe bodies were discarded in the well after students at the Hampden-Sydney College, which predated the Medical College of Virginia, used them for experiments.
Unable to determine the identities of the remains, the university’s planning committee will hold five forums to gather feedback from the community as to how to proceed with memorializing them, says Kevin Allison, a senior assistant in Rao’s office who works with the 15-person planning committee. The committee, formed in 2013, is made up of community members, VCU faculty and staff, and elected officials.