Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and the city have formally apologized for the terrible medical experiments conducted at Holmesburg Prison on primarily Black inmates from 1951 to 1974. Many activists had come together and called on the city to apologize after the University of Pennsylvania had already done so last year, according to NBC News.
Kenney also wanted to highlight the role medical racism plays throughout United States history as well as the impact of trauma that’s been a burden for many generations of Black people to carry.
From NBC News:
“Without excuse, we formally and officially extend a sincere apology to those who were subjected to this inhumane and horrific abuse. We are also sorry it took far too long to hear these words. To the families and loved ones across generations who have been impacted by this deplorable chapter in our city’s history, we are hopeful this formal apology brings you at least a small measure of closure.
For more than 20 years, city officials in Philadelphia gave Dr. Albert Kligman and the University of Pennsylvania the green light to experiment on Black inmates awaiting bail at Holmsberg Prison. About 300 inmates were said to have been exposed to various viruses, fungi, asbestos, and pharmaceuticals. Even a component of Agent Orange, a drug used in chemical warfare, was tested in some experiments.
NBC News states many former inmates had lifelong scars and health issues from the experiments. Kligman died in 2010. A group of inmates filed a lawsuit against the university and Kligman in 2000 that was thrown out two years later because of the statute of limitations. When the University of Pennsylvania made its apology, they also took Kligman’s name off some honorifics like an annual lecture series and professorship.
A defense attorney for one of the activists involved in the effort, Michael Coard, was glad to see the city promptly issue an apology.
From the Philadephia Tribute:
“It is one of the best — if not the best — apologies I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” said Coard during a phone interview. “I read it at least five times to see if there were any holes in it.“ “For the mayor to get into the details of precisely what he was apologizing for, I was pleasantly surprised and incredibly shocked.
Coard also said the group was not after money or reparations. They want a written apology from all branches of the Philadelphia government and an unconditional promise that something like this will never happen in their incarceration systems again.
“We want it to be clear to the mayor and to the public, this is not a money grab for us,” Coard said. “Those who fail to understand history will fail by repeating history,” Coard said. “That is why we are doing this thing because with mass incarceration going on today, this could happen again, and it could affect even more people.”