(Photo: National Geographic)

For the past ten years, a skull that is believed to have belonged to Nat Turner has belonged to Richard Hatcher, former mayor of Gary, Indiana. But now, it has been turned over to Turner’s descendants, who have since turned it over to the Smithsonian for DNA testing.

In early October, a small gathering of nine people arrived at a hotel suite in Gary to mark the occasion as the skull was handed over to Turner’s descendants.

“Eternal God, we are gathered here today to honor you, and to honor the legendary liberator, emancipator of the enslaved, and revolutionary of righteous, the Reverend Nathaniel Turner,” prayed Reverend John Jackson of Trinity United Church of Christ at the start of the event.

Shanna Batten Aguirre and Shelly Lucas Wood, both of whom are descendants of Nat Turner, flew out from Washington, D.C., for the event.

“The legacy of Nat Turner has had enduring impact, not simply upon our family, but upon American history,” Aguirre said. “Certainly, this fragile fragment holds enormous emotional value for me, for my family. But it is of immeasurable value because it is a poignant reminder of the price of freedom. In a very tangible way, it asserts the humanity of people who were systemically dehumanized. Its incredible existence demands acknowledgment that, yes, this black life mattered.”

It’s not entirely clear what became of Turner’s remains, with stories circulating that after his hanging, his torso was buried but his skull and brain were sent away for study. Turner’s descendants have given the skull to the Smithsonian to be tested to determine its authenticity.