Photo: Getty Images
  /  10.07.2022

City officials in Philadelphia issued an apology yesterday (Oct. 6) after allowing experiments to be conducted on Black prisoners, according to NPR. Records state that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the Holmesburg Prison “intentionally exposed about 300 inmates to viruses, fungus, asbestos and chemical agents including dioxin — a component of Agent Orange.”

Before its decommissioning in 1995, the facility was nicknamed “The Terrordome.” The city granted Dr. Albert Kligman, a researcher at the ​​University of Pennsylvania, permission to do biochemical, pharmaceutical and dermatological testing on the mostly Black inmates. For years, families of the formerly incarcerated have demanded answers and apologies.

According to reports, in 2000, inmates subjected to the Philadelphia researcher’s practices filed a lawsuit against Kligman and the university. However, a statute of limitations caused the case to be dismissed. Many of the prisoners suffered lifelong health complications due to the experiments. Kligman died in 2010 at 93 years old. He was credited with discovering Retin-A, a product used to treat acne and signs of aging.

“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,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement yesterday. The politician also shared the message on social media.

“One of our administration’s priorities is to build a more equitable future, and to do that, we must reckon with past atrocities. Recognizing the deep distrust experiments like this have created in our communities of color, we vow to continue to fight inequities and disparities,” the Philadelphia mayor said in part on Twitter.

The University of Pennsylvania has also apologized for its role in the experiments. Last year, the institution removed Kligman’s tainted name from honorifics such as an annual lecture series and professorship. The school promised to donate funds to “dermatological issues in people of color” as well.


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