The city of Philadelphia has apologized for unethical experiments conducted on mostly Black inmates at the city’s Holmesburg Prison from the 1950s through the 1970s. 

The city allowed University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. Albert Kligman to conduct  dermatological, biochemical and pharmaceutical experiments that intentionally exposed about 300 inmates to viruses, fungus, asbestos and chemical agents including dioxin — a component of Agent Orange.

Kligman’s experiments were mostly conducted on Black men, many of whom were awaiting  trial and saving money for bail, and many of whom were illiterate, according to the city.

In the city’s formal apology, Mayor Jim Kenney said the “historical impact and trauma of this practice of medical racism has extended for generations – all the way through the present day.” He vowed that one of his administration’s priorities is to rectify historic wrongs by reckoning with the past. 

“Without excuse, we formally and officially extend a sincere apology to those who were subjected to this inhumane and horrific abuse,” said Kenney in the city’s statement. 

Many of the former inmates would have permanent scars and health problems as a result of the experiments. In 2000, a group of inmates filed a lawsuit against the university and Kligman, which was later dismissed due to a statute of limitations, NPR reports.

According to the Associated Press, the move comes after community activists and families of some of those inmates raised the need for a formal apology.

The United States has a long history of unethical experiments on Black people, which has resulted in widespread medical mistrust in the community.

This apology is one of the latest as cities nationwide continue to reckon with the atrocities of the past.

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