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Penn Museum apologizes for keeping remains of MOVE victim rather than returning them to family

The museum said the remains should have been returned, and pledged to reassess its practices.

MOVE member Consuewella Africa raises her hands as she speaks during a news conference to denounce how two museums have handled the remains of a member of the group who died in the 1985 city bombing of their West Philly compound.
MOVE member Consuewella Africa raises her hands as she speaks during a news conference to denounce how two museums have handled the remains of a member of the group who died in the 1985 city bombing of their West Philly compound.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The University of Pennsylvania apologized to members of MOVE on Monday for using the remains of one of the group’s members as a case study in its anthropology classes, rather than returning them to the family.

“We understand the importance of reuniting the remains with the family and we are working now to find a respectful, consultative resolution,” a university spokesperson said. “... We are reassessing our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains.”

The university said it has launched an investigation into why the remains were kept there for so many years and had hired former Temple Law School Dean Carl Singley and his colleague Joe Tucker to lead the probe.

One of the first things the investigation may have to determine: Where are the remains?

The remains — a pelvic bone and part of a femur — have been shuttled back and forth between Penn and Princeton University. The executive director of the Penn Museum told The Inquirer last week that they had been returned to Alan Mann, a retired anthropologist who was hired by the city to examine them after the bombing.

Mann, in an interview Monday outside his home near Princeton, said he doesn’t have the remains and hasn’t seen them in more than a decade.

“I would’ve given them back years ago, if anyone had asked me,” Mann said. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to keep them. They should be given back.”

A Penn spokesperson did not return a request for comment on Mann’s assertion.

Meanwhile, members of MOVE, the West Philadelphia-based radical organization whose compound was bombed by the city in 1985 in a conflagration that killed 11, accused the city and the Penn Museum of mishandling and disrespecting the remains of at least one child who died in the blast.

They rejected the museum’s apology at a news conference Monday at the group’s West Philadelphia office, calling it empty words offered by an untrustworthy institution 36 years late. As part of its demands, the group called for the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.

Pam Africa, one of the group’s most vocal and prominent members, called the museum “body snatchers” and “grave robbers.”

Custody of the remains was brought to light in an opinion article published online last week by The Inquirer and written by freelancer and activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad. Muhammad has also advocated for the Penn Museum’s swift repatriation of the skull collection gathered by 19th century white supremacist Samuel George Morton.

» READ MORE: Penn Museum owes reparations for previously holding remains of a MOVE bombing victim | Opinion

When the city failed to identify the remains, they were turned over to Mann, then a University of Pennsylvania professor, for additional forensic examination by an official investigative commission.

The remains were initially subjected to detailed analysis by Mann and kept at the Penn Museum. Mann then took the remains with him when he joined Princeton in 2001, but returned them to the Penn Museum in 2016 so its experts could again seek to identify them using a new anthropology lab, a museum spokesperson said. No identity was determined.

Mann said Monday that he was unable to return the remains — bone fragments he says are stored in a container smaller than a shoe box — in the 1980s because he was unable to identify them. He said he had asked members of MOVE to provide DNA samples to help with the identification, but they declined.

He called the decades-long saga “a tragedy,” and said his primary concern is that the remains be returned to someone who will treat them with respect.

“The city of Philadelphia murdered these people,” Mann said. “I have always felt badly for them.”

In recent years, another Penn anthropologist, Janet Monge, has shown the remains in instructional videos offered online by Princeton. The videos had been available for viewing in classes that began last week, but were taken down as controversy around the remains swirled.

At their news conference Monday, members of MOVE said the museum had never contacted them about attempting to identify the remains. Statements to the contrary are lies, they said.

Janet Africa, who spent 41 years in prison for the 1978 slaying of a Philadelphia police officer during a standoff at MOVE’s Powelton Village compound, accused the museum of treating the bones like an amusement park exhibit.

» READ MORE: Controversy flares over how Penn and Princeton treated a MOVE bombing victim’s remains

Another member, Janine Africa, said the museum’s handling of the remains was “the most disrespectful, hateful thing you can do to anybody.” She was in prison at the time of the bombing for her role in the 1978 clash with police that left Officer James J. Ramp dead.

One of those killed in the 1985 bombing was her son.

“This is a very hard thing for me to talk about, because I feel like I am reliving 1985, when they told me my son is dead,” she said.

Consuewella Dotson Africa, the mother of the two oldest children killed in the 1985 bombing, became emotional during the news conference and left the room. She later returned.

”Some 36 years later they come to us and say they got some bones of our children. You go to hell with that bull—,” she said. “Mother’s Day is coming up soon. We will never be able to hug and embrace our children.”

A pathologist hired by a commission set up to investigate the disaster said the disputed remains likely belonged to her 14-year-old daughter Katricia, but Mann, the Penn anthropologist, vehemently disagreed.

Mike Africa, whose parents were imprisoned for the 1978 slaying and who was born in prison, said the group would be holding a protest in front of Penn Museum at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to continue exposing the “injustice.”

”I could not imagine, in my worse nightmare, that the government would drop a bomb on us and kill my brothers and sisters. And I could not have imagined 36 years later that they would be displaying parts of our family as if they’re some dinosaur relics that they dug up,” he said. “Our family has been through so much, and the abuse and the trauma continues. But we are strong, and we ain’t never giving in.”

While the femur and pelvic bones have been in the possession of the anthropologists, the remains of Katricia, and of her sister, Zanetta, 13, were given to family members in 1985 by the city Medical Examiner’s office. A burial service was held Dec. 14, 1985 at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale.

Katricia’ s father, Omar Galloway, attended the service, as did an aunt and uncle of the slain sisters. Their mother was not present. She was in prison at the time, one of nine MOVE members serving 30-year terms for third-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Ramp, who was killed in the 1978 in the confrontation. She was released from prison about two years ago.

Two sisters of MOVE founder John Africa said at the time that the burial was a “hypocrisy” that violated the beliefs of the group.

Staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.