Activists in Philadelphia are demanding the termination of Janet Monge, a curator at the Penn Museum, after it was revealed this week that for decades, the museum held the remains of a Black citizen who was killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing.
Some experts believe that the bones are those of Tree Africa, a 14-year-old child who was killed in the bombing. In a statement today, April 23, activist group Police Free Penn (PFP) called on the museum to immediately return the remains to the Africa family; apologize to the family and Philadelphia’s Black community; offer financial reparations; and dismiss Monge, who has been in charge of the remains for the past five years.
Eleven people, including five children, were killed in May of 1985 after a police helicopter bombed a compound in West Philadelphia that housed members of MOVE, a radical Black liberation movement. Following the attack, an investigation committee turned the pelvic bone and part of a femur of an unidentified victim, believed to be Africa, to Alan Mann for forensic examination. At the time, the researcher was a Penn professor and a curator at the Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section. But in 2001, Mann left Penn for Princeton University, taking the remains with him.
In 2016, the remains were returned to the Penn Museum’s labs to be studied with a newly acquired identification technology, under Monge’s supervision. That is until Saturday, April 17, when the museum returned the remains to Mann under the instruction of its new director, Christopher Woods. Throughout this process, the remains were never officially identified.
Monge, the museum’s lab keeper and a curator of its Physical Anthropology Section, has also drawn the ire of activists for exhibiting the remains of the MOVE Bombing victim in an online course by Princeton University. Against the backdrop of a collection of human skulls, Monge introduced the bones as a case study in restoring “personhood.” Her class is titled “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology.”
PFP condemned the “abhorrent, racist, and inhumane behavior” of the Penn Museum and Monge, noting their “failure to return these remains in a timely manner” and their use of the remains as “teaching props.”
“Once again, the University of Pennsylvania has betrayed Black Philadelphia, and the Museum has proven that they are only capable of seeing Black ancestors and Black lives as objects of curiosity,” PFP said in a statement.
The Penn Museum and Princeton University have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.
This latest controversy quickly follows the museum’s apology last week for holding the stolen skulls of enslaved people, including Black Philadelphians, in its disputed Morton Collection. Several days before the announcement, a coalition of activist groups and Penn students led by PFP protested outside the museum to demand the repatriation of the remains. The museum has since vowed to repatriate the crania and to reassess its practices of collecting, displaying, and researching human remains.
In light of this week’s revelation, PFP also demanded the creation of a transparent, public investigation, led by a community-elected investigator and funded by Penn, into the museum’s possession of the remains of the MOVE bombing victims for decades. According to the group, the investigation should also examine the Penn Museum’s “continued role in perpetuating anti-Blackness since its founding in 1887.”
“No amount of bullshit solidarity statements can restore our trust in this racist institution, not when behind closed doors you treat Black bodies as less than human,” PFP said. “No conversation is possible until the demands of the Africa family and Police Free Penn are met.”
Editor’s note 4/28/2021 1:45pm: We have removed a screenshot image of the Coursera class upon researching ongoing discussions regarding ethical concerns over publishing photographs that feature human remains.