U. of Miss. Medical Center gets funding to begin exhumation of thousands of bodies under hospital soil

These headstones are among those relocated to the UMMC Cemetery in 1992. The photos were...
These headstones are among those relocated to the UMMC Cemetery in 1992. The photos were probably taken in the 1970s. Anecdotal evidence cited by Lida Gibson suggests they were located in a now-wooded area between East University Drive Avenue and St. Dominic Hospital, north of where the 2013-14 exhumations took place.(UMMC)
Updated: Jun. 15, 2021 at 5:29 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Millions of dollars in state funding may finally aid the removal of bodies found on the grounds of University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The thousands of bodies were discovered in 2012 when UMMC looked to expand their campus to include a parking garage. It’s believed there may be as many as 7,000 buried on the campus.

The bodies are patients of the Mississippi Asylum for the Insane, which stood from 1855 until 1935 at the location where UMMC now stands.

The unmarked graves left many Mississippians unaware of where their loved ones lie. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History now has a database of more than 4,000 patients that died between 1912 and 1935 at the asylum.

“We may never be able to exhume everybody that’s buried on the campus,” Dr. Ralph Didlake, director of UMMC’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities, told WLBT in 2018. “There has been some construction, decades ago, over bodies and we don’t know if we will be able to exhume everybody that’s there.”

It’s been estimated that exhuming the bodies and relocating them would cost $21 million.

Now, there is finally a portion of that funding in place.

Mississippi State Legislature approved $3.7 million to support the exhumation of the graves in an effort to relocate the bodies and give them a proper burial.

“This will allow us to bring back into the community, as best we can, their individual stories and humanity,” Didlake said.

The Asylum Hill Project, as it’s known, will now take that money and begin working on the relocation. A crew of technicians and a bio-archaeologist will be hired to kick things off.

Then, they will begin storing patients’ remains in UMMC’s archival facility on West Street, which will offer temperature and humidity control, 24-hour security and 9,000 square feet of space.

Didlake says this will be “interim housing” for several thousand people who will be remembered with a permanent memorial.

After that, UMMC can begin their long-sought after construction. Didlake says the work should be in place by the end of the year.

Identifying the bodies has been a challenge for UMMC. While some ancestors have reached out to them, many have gone unidentified.

“For at least some of the remains, it’s impossible at this time because of deterioration caused by high moisture content and the normal expansion and retraction of the Yazoo Clay,” said Lida Gibson, assessments and research coordinator for the project.

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