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Lawmakers unlikely to pass resolution acknowledging a dark chapter in Virginia history


An effort that would’ve required Virginia to acknowledge the unethical use of Black bodies by medical institutions is on hold for now.

Back in the 1800’s, the Medical College of Virginia was having a hard time finding cadavers. So they hired grave robbers to supply Black bodies for medical experimentation.

Phillip Thompson is a former president of the Loudoun NAACP who came to Richmond to ask lawmakers to approve a resolution acknowledging this dark chapter in Virginia history with profound regret.

"When the COVID vaccines first came out in my community, a lot of African Americans didn't want to take those vaccines because they thought that it was like the Tuskegee experiment," Thompson explained. "Back in the 30’s and 40’s, young kids were told don't stray too far because the body snatchers will get you."

Nine of the 53 bodies that were discovered abandoned in Richmond's East Marshall Street Well back in the 1990’s were Black children. The details are laid out in a resolution introduced by Senator Jennifer Boysko, a Democrat from Herndon. But a Republican-controlled House panel failed to take action on it.

"When we don't address past wrongs, we are not going to learn from them," Boysko said. "There's actually been a number of bills that have been passed by for the day or killed without having a hearing or any sort of presentation at all. It's starting to feel a little bit like junior high."

The General Assembly session will end next week, and at this point it seems likely that the session will end without any movement on this resolution.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.