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Smithsonian's 'racial brain' collection has a dark history of eugenics

Smithsonian Institution's Smithsonian Castle is seen at the National Mall. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Smithsonian Institution's Smithsonian Castle is seen at the National Mall. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Many of us know the Smithsonian for its museums and vast educational exhibits. But the institution has a grisly collection that’s long been hidden from public view.

Since the early 20th century, the Smithsonian has held a collection of human brains. There are more than 200 brains in total, and the majority were taken from Indigenous and Black people without consent.

The collection was gathered at the request of a prominent anthropologist who believed in eugenics and the superiority of the white race. The brains are part of a collection of more than 30,000 human bones and body parts still held by the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum.

Here & Now‘s Scott Tong hears from Nicole Dungca, an investigative reporter with the Washington Post who has been writing about the collection as part of a new series.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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