Philadelphia apologizes for experiments on black inmates: NPR


Edward Anthony talks about his time at Holmesburg prison in Philadelphia and the tests he took part in while he was detained, pictured here October 24, 2007.

Michael Bryant/AP


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Michael Bryant/AP

Philadelphia apologizes for experiments on black inmates: NPR

Edward Anthony talks about his time at Holmesburg prison in Philadelphia and the tests he took part in while he was detained, pictured here October 24, 2007.

Michael Bryant/AP

PHILADELPHIA — The city of Philadelphia on Thursday issued an apology for unethical medical experiments performed on mostly black inmates at its Holmesburg prison from the 1950s through the 1970s.

The move comes after community activists and the families of some of these detainees raised the need for a formal apology. It also follows a series of apologies from various US cities for historically racist policies or wrongdoing in the wake of the national race toll following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

The city authorized University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. Albert Kligman to conduct dermatological, biochemical, and pharmaceutical experiments that intentionally exposed approximately 300 inmates to viruses, fungi, asbestos, and chemical agents, including dioxin – a component of agent orange. The vast majority of Kligman’s experiments were performed on black men, many of whom were awaiting trial and trying to save money for bail, and many of whom were illiterate, the city said.

Kligman, who would go on to pioneer the Retin-A acne and wrinkle treatment, died in 2010. Many former inmates are said to have lifelong scars and health issues from the experiments. A group of inmates filed a lawsuit against the university and Kligman in 2000 which was ultimately dismissed due to a statute of limitations.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in his apology that the experiments exploited a vulnerable population and that the impact of this medical racism spanned generations.

“Without apology, we formally and officially extend a sincere apology to those who were subjected to this inhumane and horrific abuse. We are also sorry that it took far too long to hear these words,” Kenney wrote.

Last year, the University of Pennsylvania issued a formal apology and stripped Kligman’s name from honorary titles like an annual lecture series and a professorship. The university has also directed research funds to fellows focused on dermatological issues in people of color.


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