Remains of Black children killed in MOVE bombing used in Ivy League classes

Philadelphia apologized for causing “immeasurable and enduring harm”

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The University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University are facing backlash for using the remains of Black children killed in the MOVE bombing in their Ivy League courses.

The city of Philadelphia bombed MOVE, a Black liberation group, on May 13, 1985, with a device that is generally used in combat and used water cannons after a days-long standoff.

Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. approved the deadly use of force which resulted in the deaths of five children and MOVE’s founder. The Philadelphia Fire Department further let the fire spread and 60 homes were ultimately destroyed in the predominately Black neighborhood.

Last year, Philadelphia apologized for causing “immeasurable and enduring harm.”

However, the tragedy is once again being brought to the public consciousness as it’s been revealed that the remains of the victims have been used in classes at UPenn and Princeton without permission, Billy Penn first reported.

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University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Janet Monge has been using the bones in instructional videos and for a course called “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology.” Monge’s materials are also used at Princeton and referred to MOVE as a “case study.” The remains have been used in these classes without permission from the victims’ living descendants.

Members of the MOVE family (Credit: ON A MOVE)

“They were bombed, and burned alive,” Mike Africa Jr., a current member of the MOVE organization told Billy Penn, “and now you wanna keep their bones.”

Africa Jr. was 6 at the time of the MOVE bombing. His friends and family died in the assault.

The remains, a pelvic bone and part of a femur, had been given to UPenn anthropologist Alan Mann shortly after the bombing in 1985 to help identify the remains. Mann was unable to make a positive identification, but the remains weren’t returned to the families. Instead, he kept possession of them when he took a job at Princeton.  They eventually made their way to Monge when she was working as a curator from 2016 to 2019.

The remains may belong to 14-year-old Tree Africa given their size.

“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,” Africa Jr. said, according to The Guardian.

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City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier criticized the university’s decision. She represents the West Philadelphia district where the MOVE bombing took place.

“I was in disbelief that Penn as an institution would have so little regard for Black life that they would treat a little girl who was already killed by our government as property, as someone to be studied,” Gauthier said Wednesday.

Activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer Thursday, calling for reparations and apologies from Princeton and UPenn.

MOVE Bombing
MOVE Bombing (screenshot from archived footage of the bombing)

“The remains of murdered Black people were mishandled then, but as Penn continues their reckoning with past practices around human remains, there is an opportunity here for them to make amends to West Philadelphia,” she wrote.

“Although Princeton must also grapple with their handling of these remains, it’s especially important for Penn to do so since they are located just blocks away from where the MOVE bombing took place. People should not have to fight to discover that remains of Black people have been used as instruction when the family had no idea.”

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However, not everyone felt that there was any wrongdoing.

“This is no controversy. This is a problem to be solved,” Carolyn Rouse, the chair of Princeton’s anthropology department, told the Inquirer. “There’s no racism. This was a forensic investigation and nobody came to claim the remains.”

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the remains have been returned to Mann who is a professor emeritus at Princeton and Penn.

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