Catholic University Law Review


The influence of the Black Lives Matter movement extends into U.S. museums in the form of calls for “decolonization” of collections comprised of art and artifacts from Africa and other colonized areas. As a result, the accompanying legal and ethical questions surrounding these artifacts now figure prominently in the museum industry. This Comment analyzes why the current U.S. cultural heritage law framework does not accommodate colonial-era African artifacts. This is due to few of these artifacts being subject to legal claims under current laws, African artifacts not having protection as a special classification, and the lack of enforcement mechanisms in museum ethical codes.

To achieve lasting change consistent with the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a need for positive legislation in the United States, coupled with strong museum association guidance, that would compel museums to inventory African art and artifacts in their collections, to publicize this information, and to follow a set of guidelines for considering the return of these items, where appropriate, to their communities and countries of origin. This proposed solution is based upon museum industry standards as well as aspects of existing special legislation for Native American objects and Nazi-era looted artworks proven to produce beneficial results.