The horrors of slavery: the trade in cadavers

I was getting ready to do some research on my next column, when my wife suggested the topic of “Jewish Scientists.”
I immediately thought of my brother, Fred, of blessed memory, a Jewish professor of anatomy and biochemistry who simultaneously taught and did research in the fields of biology and chemistry.
I never thought there would come a day when this story concerning my brother could find a place in the Texas Jewish Post.
The following event was gathered from reliable friends, family members, lab assistants, and some students. Fred, never one to boast, had stated that he “didn’t want to talk about it.”
Fred was a biochemist who specialized in celluar (cancer) research. He always applied for positions which would allow him to split his time between teaching university or medical school students and doing research in his laboratory.
When he taught Human Anatomy at Texas A&M at College Station in the 1950s, he was dissatisfied with the fact that only specimen pigs were available for his class. He wanted a human cadaver, and he got one.
Contacting his classmate from grad school, who now supervised at M.D. Anderson in Houston, he was given one cadaver as long as it was used for research and education. Fred would have to come and get it. This method of getting a cadaver was legal, but unorthodox.
Fred drove his VW Minivan to Houston, having lowered enough seats.
He was coming back with the cadaver in a bag, driving slowly enough to catch the attention of a DPS officer, who after stopping Fred, and checking out the interior of his car, thought he had caught an unlikely looking killer.
It took an hour and two phone calls at the DPS office to convince the officers that Fred was legitimate and the cadaver was allocated for research and education.
The use of cadavers brings up the history of abuse to the Black community.
Fast-forward to Page 10 of The New York Times of Feb. 4, 2018, “Beyond the Slave Trade, the Cadaver Trade” by Daina Berry.
The revelation by Miss Berry is that there was a very active enslaved Black body-snatching business involving major medical schools, the likes of Harvard, acquiring the bodies of ex-slaves, some of whom were sold again after they had died.
In the 1800s, medical schools competed for students by advertising that they had a good supply of corpses for their use.
While executed criminals and unclaimed corpses from poorhouses provided some specimens, there was never enough. To supply the demand, professional body snatchers often stole bodies from paupers’ cemeteries.
Ms. Berry demands that American medical schools who were involved in this illegal and immoral practice should own up to it by opening up their records of acquiring cadavers, and giving restitution to those traceable family members who deserve it.
As for Fred, an avid supporter of civil rights, he went on to have an illustrious career in cellular biology and became a historian of science and medicine.
Uncovering evidence of a Nazi experimenter, Fred provided important information to both Yad Vashem and to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
He retired as Cell Biology Professor from LSU Medical School in New Orleans after 27 years and became Professor Emeritus of Anatomy.
In semi-retirement, he served as Adjunct Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine until he passed away April 14, 2014.
His research on Nazi doctors’ experiments, unfortunately, remains unfinished.

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