An online public forensics course that involved the remains of two children killed in the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house in West Philadelphia has been suspended.
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, also called Penn Museum, which had the initial custody of the remains, said in a statement that reuniting the remains of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa with MOVE family members is its goal.
The museum said its director, Chris Woods, has personally reached out to the Africa family, and will meet so that the institution can "understand the family’s wishes as we work towards a respectful resolution."
As more than 100 MOVE members and their supporters converged on Penn Museum at 33rd and Spruce streets Wednesday evening, protesters made the following five demands:
• Immediate return of remains of Delisha and Tree Africa.
• Full investigation of Penn's and Princeton's role in the unethical possession of their remains.
• Firing of Penn faculty member and curator Janet Monge.
• A formal apology from Penn and Princeton.
• Reparations for these atrocities.
Bones thought to have belonged to the two girls were stored at Penn Museum for decades following the bombing and were then transferred back and forth between Penn and Princeton University for research.
The 1985 incident, in which officials dropped a bomb on MOVE's house and a bunker on its roof in an attempt to evict the members, took at least 11 lives, including five children, when the city allowed the ensuing fire to burn. The fire also destroyed 65 houses in the neighborhood.
“They’ve been doing this to our Black bodies for hundreds of years, in the name of science, in the name of study,” YahNé Ndgo said during Wednesday's protest.
An earlier museum statement said, “The Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologize to the Africa family and to our community for allowing human remains recovered from the MOVE house to be used for research and teaching, and for retaining the remains for far too long.”
The location of the remains of Delisha, 12, and Tree, 14, were unknown for years until recently published reports. In the aftermath of the bombing, city authorities began investigating the site of the MOVE compound on Osage Avenue where they identified the bones.
According to Penn, the medical examiner’s office tasked Alan Mann, a physical anthropologist who at the time was employed at Penn, to confirm the identities.
But James Garrow, Philadelphia Department of Public Health communications director, said that would not have been the case.
“As a matter of policy, remains would never be released to a third party without the consent of the next of kin,” he said. In the event that a person's remains are unidentifiable, they are cremated, Garrow said.
But Mann and Monge, who was then a Penn student and is now museum anthropology curator, kept possession of the remains for decades between the Penn and Princeton University laboratories.
Students at Princeton University simultaneously held a demonstration Wednesday on the campus outside Nassau Hall.
Recently, Monge was set to utilize the two girls' remains as a teaching tool for her online class titled "Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology." The course has since been suspended.
Carolyn Rouse, chair of Princeton’s anthropology department, has said the remains were a part of a forensic investigation and that there was no intentional malpractice.
But MOVE member Pam Africa called the universities' custody and use of the remains for courses "ghoulish."
"This system has consistently been killing our children for years," she said during Wednesday's protest. "In the womb, outside and womb and as young children."
She described several times when the children in the Osage Avenue house weren't present on a regular basis and decried how city officials laid siege only after the children had returned from shopping on May 13, 1985.
Other speakers at the protest, including City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, reacted similarly to the universities' actions.
“The fact that academics used these bones to further their own research dehumanizes the victims," she said.
Penn also recently addressed concerns over their holdings of more than 1,000 skull remains, a collection by Dr. Samuel G. Morton, a white supremacist scientist determined to highlight racial differences in skeletons. Morton’s collection largely included remains retrieved by disturbing Black gravesites throughout the 19th century.
“As part of the actions recently announced in the Morton Collection Committee’s report, we are reassessing our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains,” the earlier Penn statement said.