The university’s board of visitors approved the resolution in an effort to center the voices that too often have been silenced, VCU said.
In the 1800s, the Medical College of Virginia procured cadavers for dissection by illegally digging up bodies in Black cemeteries in Richmond. When the bodies were no longer of use, they were cast into a nearby well.
The skeletons of at least 44 adults and nine children were recovered in 1994. But VCU did not allow archaeologists time for a full investigation, and some human remains were left in the well, which is now buried somewhere beneath the Kontos Medical Sciences Building.
“VCU humbly recognizes and deeply regrets the historic inequity and systemic marginalization of individuals as they do not reflect the society VCU works to advance — one in which people of diverse backgrounds and experiences are given the dignity and respect their humanity deserves,” the university said in a statement.
In 1968, a team at the Medical College of Virginia led by Dr. Richard Lower performed the first human-to-human heart transplant in the American South.
A Black laborer, Bruce Tucker, arrived at the hospital with a severe head injury. The doctors deemed his condition too grave for him to survive.
The transplant team removed his heart and gave it to Joseph Klett, a white businessman. It was later determined that neither Bruce Tucker nor his family consented to the transplant.
The story became the focus of the 2020 book ”The Organ Thieves” by former Richmond Times-Dispatch journalist Chip Jones. VCU assigned the book to its freshmen this year.
When the book published, Jones asked VCU to publicly apologize to Tucker’s family.
“I’m glad that VCU and its leadership have made this acknowledgement of such pain and really injustice to this Black man and his family,” Jones said Friday. “There’s no way to justify from an ethical or moral point of view how he was treated and how his family was mistreated by never being told.”
Tucker’s family didn’t know the heart had been removed until they were told by a funeral director, Jones said.
VCU sent a letter to Tucker’s family on Friday notifying them of the apology and inviting them to help create an on-campus memorial, a university spokesperson said.
VCU plans to commission a plaque, funded by VCU School of Medicine faculty members, to honor Tucker’s role in the history of heart transplantation and to be placed at VCU Medical Center.
The university’s apology “won’t bring back Bruce Tucker, and it won’t assuage the hurt and trauma that is still felt by his son and some of his family members,” Jones said.
Tucker’s son, Abraham Tucker, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
From the Archives: Scenes from Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1970s