Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
I write to share the report of the Steering Committee on Human Remains in Harvard Museum Collections. It offers a clear roadmap for our community as we seek to fulfill our obligations to those individuals whose remains are held by the University—including nineteen people of African descent who were or were likely to have been enslaved. It is never too late to afford others the dignity and respect they were denied in life, and it is never too soon to begin the process of recognition and, with hope, reconciliation.
Many thanks are due to Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies, and Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, for her leadership as chairperson. Together with her colleagues, she brought deep humanity to a complex effort long overdue. The committee members drew on expertise across the University to develop pragmatic recommendations, paying close and constant attention to how we treat the least powerful among us. I have accepted their recommendations and have asked Provost Alan Garber to begin implementing them this semester.
When announcing the formation of the committee, I wrote that we cannot—and should not—continue to pursue truth in ignorance of our history. As is the case with our ongoing efforts to care for one of the largest collections of Native American ancestors in the country and to address our entanglements with slavery and its legacy, the work ahead will require extraordinary care, as well as a prevailing sense of duty to those individuals and communities affected by the actions of our predecessors. I know we will fulfill our responsibility because I have seen our community at its best—motivated by Veritas to do right.
Lawrence S. Bacow