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Towards a Respectful Resolution

Last updated September 2023
(Content Warning: contains discussion of human remains.)

Reuniting the human remains from the 1985 MOVE tragedy with the Africa Family was a priority, upon learning they were at the Penn Museum. After consultation with Consuewella, Janine, Janet, and Sue Africa, any known MOVE remains were placed in the care of a West Philadelphia funeral home in April 2021, and were received by the Africa Family on July 2, 2021.

As we uphold the ethical stewardship of human remains and prioritize human dignity, our ongoing work towards a respectful resolution includes following through on recommendations by the Tucker Law Group’s independent investigative report, which was publicly released on August 25, 2021:

  • As of February 2022, the Penn Museum appointed a Chief Diversity Officer
  • As of September 2023, we released an updated Human Remains Policy following a comprehensive reassessment of our institutional practices on collecting, storing, displaying, and researching human remains in our care.
  • A complete renovation of the physical anthropology spaces is in progress to ensure that human remains in our care are stewarded to the highest ethical standards
  • A search is underway for a new faculty-curator in bioanthropology/bioarchaeology with a record of advocacy for Black and Indigenous people, along with expertise in repatriation requests and the analysis of human remains. This role at the Museum was created in conjunction with Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences

We are committed to full transparency with respect to any new evidence that may emerge.

On June 9, 2022, the City of Philadelphia, whose Medical Examiner Office (MEO) hired a Penn anthropologist in 1986 to identify MOVE remains labeled “B-1,” released a report on its year-long investigation. In its report and for the first time, the City identified photographs presumably taken in 1986 of “Body G,” the identifier used by the MEO to reference a second set of bone fragments believed to belong to Delisha Africa. Upon receiving these photographs, the University of Pennsylvania requested that the Tucker Law Group reassess whether film studies purporting to be of B-1 taken at the Museum in 2018 were consistent with B-1 remains in possession of the MEO.

On September 16, 2022, the Tucker Law Group released its supplementary report stating that an independent expert has determined the X-rays taken at the Museum in 2018 are not of the same person identified by the City as “Body G.” Tucker Law Group also reaffirmed its conclusion that the remains of “Body G” were not in the possession of the Museum.

Independent Investigative Report

We have fully cooperated with all investigations, and our goal has always been to learn the facts, do what’s right, and take steps towards repair.

On August 25, 2021, the University and the Museum released the findings of an independent investigative report on the handling of the partial remains, authored by The Tucker Law Group (TLG).

The TLG report relied on interviews with more than 40 people, including members of MOVE; current and former Museum employees; Penn faculty, students, and alumni; elected officials; anthropologists; and community members. In addition, TLG reviewed archival records, the 1986 MOVE Commission Report, the 1988 MOVE Grand Jury Report, records from the Philadelphia Police Department and the City Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO), codes of ethics from multiple professional organizations, and the laws in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey regarding the treatment of human remains.

On September 8, the report was updated to correct a reference cited on pages 39 and 66: “Society of Forensic Anthropologists (SOFA)” was replaced with “American Board of Forensic Anthropology (“ABFA”).”

Read the full TLG report

Key findings include:

  • In early 1986, the MEO hired Dr. Alan Mann as a private consultant to aid in the identification of the remains labeled “B-1.” Mann, then an Anthropology professor at Penn and Curator-in-Charge of the Physical Anthropology Section at the Museum, was assisted by Dr. Janet Monge, a graduate student at the time, who later became the Associate Curator;
  • Claims regarding a second set of MOVE remains––an occipital bone (a trapezoid-shaped area located at the base of the skull) alleged to be those of 12-year-old Delisha Africa––are inaccurate. “[T]he weight of the evidence that we reviewed clearly establishes that Mann and Monge did not receive the occipital bone or any other bone fragments of Body G,” the report noted.
  • In 1995 and 2014, Dr. Monge attempted to communicate with MOVE members “to enlist their help in identifying the remains and, if they did belong to Katricia, return them to her mother, Consuewella Africa.”
  • After consultation with MOVE members, the remains, which were placed in the care of a West Philadelphia funeral home in April 2021, were received by the Africa Family on July 2, 2021;
  • The controversy over the handling of the remains was exacerbated in part by “three inaccurate factual premises":
    1. that the remains used in the video were indisputably those of a specific MOVE child.
    2. that the remains of a second MOVE child were housed at the Museum.
    3. no effort was ever made to identify and return any of those remains to MOVE.
  • The report found that “[i]n fact, the identity of the remains used in the video is still a matter of legitimate dispute, and all that we could conclude, with a reasonable degree of certainty, is that the remains displayed in the video were of a MOVE member. We found no credible evidence that the remains of a second child were ever housed at the Museum. And finally, we also found that efforts were indeed made to identify the remains . . . with the goal of returning them to MOVE family members.”
  • The MOVE remains were not a part of the controversial 19th century Morton Collection, and were never on display in the Museum; nor were they ever “accessioned” by the University or the Museum, despite being shown on at least 10 occasions, including a 2019 online course offered through Princeton. TLG found that the Princeton course focused on teaching “how the techniques of forensic anthropology could be used to restore the ‘personhood’ of unidentified remains,” and “when viewed in context, [it] served legitimate professional and educational objectives.”

Recommendations include:

  • Hiring a chief diversity officer for the Penn Museum;
  • Creating, with Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences, a new, full-time position at the Museum for a bio-anthropologist/archaeologist with a record of advocacy for Black and Indigenous people, along with expertise in repatriation requests and the analysis of human remains;
  • Conducting a comprehensive review of the Museum’s holdings and collection practices, as well as reassess institutional policies relating to human remains.

The University and Museum are reviewing the rest of the recommendations to find ways to incorporate them into new or existing University programs. These recommendations include:

  • Appointing a diverse, external advisory committee to enhance ongoing community relations efforts;
  • Creating a permanent installation about “the Bombing of Osage Ave.” at a publicly accessible campus location;
  • Establishing a dedicated scholarship to recruit more students from West Philadelphia.

We will continue to update this page.

A Message to the Community

April 28, 2021
From Wendell Pritchett, Provost
Christopher Woods, Ph.D., Williams Director
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Towards a Respectful Resolution: An Apology to the Africa Family

(Content Warning: contains discussion of human remains.)

The Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania apologize to the Africa family and the members of 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 Africa family and our community have experienced profound emotional distress as a result of the news that human remains from the horrific 1985 bombing of the MOVE house were at the Penn Museum and this fact has urgently raised serious questions: Why were the remains at the Museum in the first place? Why were they used for teaching purposes? And, most importantly, what are we going to do to resolve this situation?

In 1985, the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office asked Penn physical anthropologists to assist with the efforts to identify some of the remains from the MOVE house. It is common for physical anthropologists to assist in forensic cases where individual identity is uncertain, and over the years our experts revisited this question, driven by new science and technology. But despite these efforts, we, unfortunately, are still unable to provide conclusive confirmation of identity.

Chris Woods personally learned on April 16 that these remains were in our Museum and that they had been used in a forensic anthropology class, having assumed his role as director on April 1. The important topic of returning human remains to descendants was very much on the minds of Museum staff as there had just been a public announcement of plans regarding the Morton Cranial Collection, and the issue of the MOVE victim’s remains was raised in this context. In the April 12 announcement of the plans for the Morton Collection, we vowed to work with local communities to learn their wishes and to return individuals to their ancestors, wherever possible, as a step toward atonement and repair for the racist and colonial practices that were integral to the formation of these collections.

While the remains recovered from the MOVE house were not part of the Museum collection, it could not be clearer that this same standard should be applied here as well—these remains should be returned to the Africa family as soon as possible. The research of our physical anthropologists was done in the interests of serving our community, but by any measure 36 years is far too long to have waited.

We understand the importance of reuniting these remains with the family. This is our goal. And we are committed to a respectful, consultative resolution.

For many, one of the most traumatic parts of this narrative is that some of these remains were used in a forensic anthropology class that was offered by Princeton University and taught by a member of the Penn Museum staff. This course has now been suspended.

Classes in forensic science require human remains to teach the next generation of forensic specialists. However, it is an ethical imperative to show the utmost respect to family survivors. Informed consent must be given by the person before death or by the family afterwards. Regretfully, this did not happen in this case—and it was a serious error in judgment to use these remains in a class of any kind, especially given the extreme emotional distress in our community surrounding the 1985 bombing of the MOVE house. Unquestionably, the decision to use the remains in this way has torn at old wounds that our city and community have long sought to heal.

The Museum has promised to reassess our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains, and we are committed to this promise. It is now obvious, however, that this reassessment must also include how human remains are used in teaching as well as a comprehensive review of the holdings and collection practices of our Physical Anthropology section.

As part of this review, the University of Pennsylvania has hired attorneys Joe Tucker and Carl Singley of the Tucker Law Group to investigate how the remains came into the possession of the Museum and what transpired with them for nearly four decades. This report will be shared with the community and its findings used to help us ensure that nothing of this nature is repeated in the future.

We must constantly bear in mind the fact that human remains were once living people, and we must always strive to treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve.