Human remains found on VCU campus 25 years ago return to Richmond: ‘Welcome home to our ancestors’

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Human remains discovered on VCU’s campus decades ago made their return to Richmond Monday. A ceremony was also held to honor the discovery and its historical impact.

The 19th Century human remains were discovered in an abandoned well on what was the MCV campus — now known as VCU Medical Center — 25 years ago.

“This is a day, I believe, we answered the call of our ancestors,” Joseph Jones, chairman of VCU’s Family Representative Council, said.

A proper homecoming to honor those stripped of their identity decades ago, telling a story dating back to the 19th Century. In 1994, a well was discovered during the construction of the Kontos Medical Sciences Building on East Marshall Street. Inside that well laid more than 400 artifacts, including human and animal remains.

Those remains now sit center stage under African fabrics, but for the last 25 years, they’ve been at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. for analysis and research. That research shows the remains were predominately of African descent and included at least 44 people from ages 14 and up, as well as nine children.

“We’re forced to endure the pain, hardship and torture, and trauma, of racism and bondage,” Mayor Levar Stoney said.

Their bodies are believed to have been thrown into the well by medical staff in the 1800s.

“Their strength, their perseverance and tenacity is why we are here today,” Del. Delores McQuinn said.

Mayor Stoney and Del. McQuinn were just two of several local and state officials on-hand for Monday’s ceremony. Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond City Council President Cynthia Newbill were also in attendance.

The East Marshall Well Planning Committee and the Family Representative Council have made it their mission to ensure the remains were studied, memorialized and honored with dignity.

Del. Delores McQuinn

“We are grateful and wanted to make sure that the spirit of those that live on will know that they are not forgotten,” Del. McQuinn said.

Mayor Stoney added, “May your souls rest in power and forever in perfect peace.”

The message echoed during Monday’s ceremony is that the work is not over and the excavation of human remains will continue. It’s been recommended that the remains be re-buried at the African burial ground.

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