On the possession and unethical use of the remains of the children of MOVE and the Africa family

The destruction on Osage Avenue after the police bombing of MOVE family that killed 11 people and destroyed dozens of homes.

A collective statement from the Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA), the Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA), and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective (BiBA)

April 28 — On May 13, 1985, after almost a decade of relentless harassment and confrontation, the City of Philadelphia dropped two bombs on the roof of 6221 Osage Avenue, the compound of the MOVE organization – a revolutionary group of Black people opposed to capitalist growth and committed to environmental justice and interspecies harmony. The bomb caused a fire that ripped through the compound, incinerating 11 of the 13 MOVE members inside, including five children aged seven to 13 (Tree Africa (14), Netta Africa (12), Delisha Africa (12), Little Phil Africa (12), and Tomasa Africa (9)), and razed the neighborhood, destroying at least 61 homes.

This past week, a number of outlets revealed the disturbing history of what became of the remains of one (and perhaps two) of the child victims of the bombing. What emerged was the disturbing complicity of anthropologists and anthropological institutions. Two forensic anthropologists, Alan Mann (at the time, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania), and Janet Monge (at the time Mann’s PhD student) had been hired by Philadelphia officials to identify the remains. While Mann and Monge were unable to make a positive identification, the assumption is that the remains belonged to Tree and Delisha Africa, aged 14 and 12, respectively. After the investigation, apparently either Mann or Monge kept the remains in their personal possession, moving them between the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Princeton University. As late as last week, the remains were the focal point of the Princeton online Coursera course titled, “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” taught by Monge. Some 5000 students were enrolled. Princeton claimed not to know the location of the remains; UPenn later admitted that they were in Mann’s possession and that he would release them.

The parents of Tree and Delisha were not notified of the existence of the remains, nor were the remains returned. The Africa family believed that their children were buried, and were not aware that their children’s bones were being used as specimens for the forensic anthropology course. Mike Africa, Jr., speaking on behalf of the family, lamented: “Nobody said you can do that, holding up their bones for the camera. That’s not how we process our dead. This is beyond words. The anthropology professor is holding the bones of a 14-year-old girl whose mother is still alive and grieving.”

The Association of Black Anthropologists, the Society of Black Archaeologists, and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective are painfully aware of the barbaric history of anthropology, especially when it comes to populations of peoples of African descent. We know that our discipline has been mobilized to rationalize eugenics and white supremacy and to justify slavery and colonialism. We also know that ethnographic museums, like Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (which houses the collection of the notorious racist Samuel Morton) , have supported the academic rationale for the institutionalization of racism in anthropology textbooks, courses, and curricula.

It is because of this history of racism in anthropology, and because of the missions of ABA, SBA, and BiBA to counter it, that we as organizations condemn in the strongest possible language the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Coursera, along with Professors Alan Mann and Janet Monge, for their horrific treatment of the remains of Tree and Delisha Africa, and for the unfathomable heartlessness and disrespect shown towards the Africa family. We are outraged by the stunning ethical indifference shown by all parties involved to both Tree and Delisha and to the Africa family, but also by the fact that these entities effectively monetized the remains of Black children murdered in a state terrorist attack – a fact made all the more painful given the heightened public awareness of brutal murders of Black children and youth by the police over the past few years. 

Moreover, this revelation represents a painful reminder of anthropology’s history with the Black dead – of which the Penn Museum, as the physical manifestation of Morton’s legacy, provides a potent symbol. Even as UPenn earlier this year has tried to grapple with the legacy of Morton, we are faced with yet another affront to Black life and dignity. 

Black anthropologists should not be alone in expressing this outrage and bearing this heavy ethical burden. All anthropologists should be enraged. All anthropologists need to condemn this barbaric and savage act by its own practitioners. And white anthropologists, in particular, should not only hold themselves accountable to the ways that they continue to uphold normalized forms of antiBlackness and harm through their research and theorizing, but should also actively work to undo the centuries of violence and trauma done to nonwhite communities.

We support and are republishing the demands of Mike Africa, Jr., a MOVE family member who was 6 years old at the time when the Philadelphia police dropped the bomb on MOVE, currently circulated in the following online petition: tinyurl.com/MOVE-children

We demand:

  • The immediate return of the remains of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa to The MOVE Family.
  • An immediate apology by the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, the Penn Museum, and Coursera to The MOVE Family and the Black community of Philadelphia for this racist and abhorrent behavior.
  • Financial reparations to The MOVE Family for the continued harm and trauma caused by Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Museum, and Coursera, for the profits made by the use of our relatives as teaching tools and research objects.
  • The immediate removal of all online content in which these remains are used, including the online course Real Bones taught by Janet Monge.
  • The termination of Janet Monge from her role as curator at the Penn Museum and faculty in the department of anthropology.
  • The creation of a transparent, public investigation led by a MOVE-approved investigator and funded by the Universities, into how these remains ended up in the Museum’s possession over the past 35 years.

We ask those who are able to attend the MOVE Children Deserve to Rest in Peace Rally on Wednesday, April 28 at Penn Museum to demand the repatriation of the remains of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa and reparations for MOVE family members for these atrocities. We encourage everyone to review the MOVE Press Conference 4/26, the documentaries “40 Years a Prisoner” and “Bombing of Osage,” and the official website of the MOVE Organization at http://onamove.com

We realize that Penn and Princeton are not the only universities trafficking in the human remains of nonwhite peoples. And while both the Penn Museum and Princeton Anthropology have issued statements of contrition, we believe that they must do more. The Association of Black Anthropologists, Society of Black Archaeologists, and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective therefore demand, first, that the Penn Museum self-report this egregious IRB violation. Second, we demand that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) work in haste to help facilitate the repatriation of the remains of the Africa family children, as well as other remains held in the many anthropology museums and departments throughout the country. These include, but are not limited to, the numerous remains of peoples of African descent. Towards this end we also call for a national audit of all human remains in museum and university collections. We believe it is imperative that this information become public record, allowing descended communities to reclaim sovereignty of the remains of their ancestors. 

As we come upon the 36th anniversary of the state sanctioned bombing on May 13, we ask that you keep the families and friends of MOVE in your thoughts, prayers, and actions. Continue to push MOVE’s call for the freedom of Mumia Abu Jamal and all political prisoners!

And let us bury our dead.

In solidarity,

The Association of Black Anthropologists (ABA)
The Society of Black Archaeologists (SBA)
The Black in Bioanthropology Collective (BiBA)