East Marshall Street Well Project
Unfortunately the VCU East Marshall Street Well Project has been unofficially on hold since the fall of 2016. The preparation of the revised draft of the Preliminary Recommendations Report (May 2016) was to have been completed by the spring of 2017, and then submitted to the Office of the President for review while the Implementation Committee was formed. This has not happened.
Problems can arise with any project, but with another six months gone by, there has been no notice given for the continued delay in the report's finalization. In fact, no updates have been posted on the website, and the Planning Committee which launched the EMSW process in 2013 has not been convened since the Family Representative Council began its work, and cannot offer an explanation.
This situation is all the more disappointing because of how well this project began, something that is evident in amount of material posted to the website until June of 2016, and because of the creation of the Family Representative Council - contemporary African American people standing in for the families of the unnamed people whose remains were found in the 1860s era well after use in anatomical studies by students of the Medical College of Virginia. The FRC is one of the most unique and promising formations within the programs initiated by universities confronting the legacy of slavery and racism in their histories over the last 10 years. Most of those universities have created memorials to the enslaved and institutes to study this undervalued and under-represented topic, but have not elected to connect their engagement to the low-income, low-opportunity communities that typically surround them. The FRC has recommended itself would continue as a permanent council of the university to serve as a resource in the future.
If none of the other leadership is prepared to take a bold step forward, the ball of progress will remain solidly in the court of VCU President Michael Rao. But if he doesn't have someone do something very soon, that bold step might need to come from unofficial sources instead. Given the history of anatomical studies, grave-robbing, and gross disregard for the sanctity of Black health, life and death at the heart of this issue, much less for the bones when dug up in 1994, it was always imperative for VCU to raise the bar of trust with this project; transparency of process and constant communication were central expectations. However, after nearly a year of silence, whatever the problem is with finalizing the report, the apparent comfort with the lack of communication is more than a little "too bad."
At this stage of the project, the Family Representative Council (FRC) has completed its year-long process of learning, consulting, brainstorming that resulted the presentation of their recommendations to the East Marshall Street Well Project Planning Committee on Wednesday, May 26, 2016 to overwhelming support and gratitude. After a 2 week period for further Planning Committee review, the FRC then presented the same recommendations to the public during the final of 5 Community Conversations at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School - for review, discussion and approval on Saturday, June 4, 2016 from 9 am until 12 noon.
Visit emsw.vcu.edu to experience the background information, resources and updates to this very compelling public history project.
Click this link to view the trailer from the documentary that launched the project: Until the Well Runs Dry: Medicine and the Exploitation of Black Bodies