A protest outside the Penn Museum in Philadelphia on April 8, 2021 (photo courtesy Police Free Penn)

Last April, I was one of two people to break the story about Penn Museum’s retention of remains of Black girls murdered in a police bombing. The headquarters and home of the MOVE Organization — a group of mostly Black people, organized together by the tenets of John Africa —was bombed by the city. The MOVE bombing happened a day after Mother’s Day on May 13, 1985, under the direction of Philadelphia Mayor Woodrow Wilson Goode, City Managing Director Leo Brooks, and Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor. The Philadelphia Police Department and Fire Department launched a militarized assault, culminating with the Bomb Disposal Unit of the Police Department dropping a combination satchel bomb on the MOVE house.

This war-like, deadly assault on the MOVE family included brutal violence heaped upon their precious children. Eleven people, including five children, were murdered that day, some showing evidence of being shot. Delisha Africa was 12 and Katricia Dotson (Tree Africa )was 14 when their lives were taken in the state-sanctioned deluge of water cannons, tear gas, bullets, and fire.

This disturbing information about remains being held without consent followed the public’s consternation about the museum’s holding of crania that belonged to enslaved Black people from the Caribbean and the United States, and grave-robbed crania of Black Philadelphians. What unfolded from this was a towering display of retraumatization and grief as the families and loved ones of Katricia and Delisha revisited the pain of the past. As reported, Janet Monge, formerly the associate curator-in-charge and keeper of collections in the Physical Anthropology Section at the museum and former adjunct professor at the University’s Department of Anthropology, held up the “juicy” remains of Katricia on Coursera, an online learning platform. Monge was also a visiting professor at Princeton. Alan Mann, who was Monge’s dissertation advisor during the bombing in 1985, and a former professor at Penn, is currently a professor emeritus at Princeton University. Mann is a former curator of Penn Museum’s Physical Anthropology Section and was hired by the city to investigate the remains with the assistance of Monge.

The Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia (courtesy the Penn Museum)

The University of Pennsylvania’s “independent investigation” was led by Tucker Law Group (TLG) and released to the public on August 25, 2021. Princeton University hired Ballard Spahr to conduct an investigation, released about a week later. Both reports failed to determine the whereabouts of Delisha’s remains and relied heavily on written statements by and interviews with Mann and Monge. (Mann only granted an interview to Ballard Spahr.) It is clear from reviewing documentation from Philadelphia’s City Archives, not included in either report, that we were lied to about Delisha’s remains never being retained by Mann and Monge. Both stated in varying ways that they never received Delisha’s remains, but archival documentation disagrees with their assertions. Delisha’s mother, Janet Africa, deserves to know where her child’s sacred remains are.

Sometime before the news broke on April 21 of 2021, Monge drove across state lines to Mann’s residence in Princeton to personally deliver to him a box containing the bones. That was days before Philadelphia’s Terry Funeral Home visited Mann’s home to take custody of the remains, as reported by the Philadelphia Tribune. According to TLG’s report, Monge stated that “often the human remains are kept in the original boxes or packing materials in which they were delivered,” suggesting that the box she crossed state borders with would’ve contained its original contents.

Monge had been holding onto two sets of remains she retrieved from the Medical Examiner’s Office on September 23, 1986, for Mann to continue “anthropologic examination” for over 35 years. The remains of Katricia and Delisha were labeled “B-1” and  “G” and sent to the Smithsonian on March 6 of 1986, according to a letter from Robert Segal, then-Assistant Medical Examiner in Philadelphia, to Stephanie Damadio, a specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Later that year, on September 17, Damadio returned one box containing human skeletal remains to Philadelphia, as evidenced by a shipping invoice. The same remains were then transferred to the care of Mann and signed for by Monge on September 23, 1986. In a “Memo to file” handwritten by Segal that month, he describes that “bones arrived by mail from the Smithsonian and will be turned over to Allan [sic] Mann for his continued evaluation.” On the attached receipt appears a signature from Monge.

In 2014, Philadelphia Magazine named Monge the city’s “Best Museum Curator.” Malcolm Burnley, who worked on the story for the magazine, said that Monge showed him the MOVE remains during another visit to the museum in 2019. “They were on a shelf in her office, located in a nondescript box,” he said. Burnley added that the box (a “few inches longer” than a standard shoebox) contained a femur and pelvic bone. He relayed that Monge showed him these bones and said it was from one child but remarked that there was an additional bone in the box, which the curator never identified or spoke about.

Following the initial revelation that surfaced last year, I wrote about the bungled chain of custody and argued that the city should thoroughly investigate how it came to be that bodily remains of Katricia were withheld from her family. Her family buried her in December of 1985; State Senator and funeral home owner Freeman Hankins buried Delisha on September 24 of 1986 without her occipital bone, scapula, and vertebrae. Delisha’s parents, Janet Africa and Delbert Orr Africa, were incarcerated at the time. Mann, who briefly worked on identifying the remains of MOVE victims after the deliberate bombing, had publicly disagreed with Ali Z. Hameli, a forensic pathologist and the Chief Medical Examiner of Wilmington Delaware. Hameli, who was hired by the Mayoral Commission investigating the violent assault and bombing, identified five children among the 11 victims while Mann identified only four children. That led to reexaminations of the remains.

During the 2018-2019 academic year, Monge advised Penn Undergraduate student Jane Weiss as she prepared her thesis, titled “Who Is Jane Doe?,” for the university’s Department of Anthropology. The thesis explored the MOVE bombing and the dispute surrounding the remains labeled “B-1,” which the MOVE commission found to be the remains of Katricia. In her process of investigation, Weiss states that “assessments were made through visual observations of the bones and X-ray analysis.” She further describes that examinations of the remains were conducted from September 2018 to March 2019. Weiss writes that on November 1, 2018, X-rays were performed on the remains with technical support from a staff member at the university. Her thesis includes images of X-rays taken of bone material labeled “B-1” and “G.” These images describe the remains that Segal sent to the Smithsonian and later gave to Monge in the fall of 1986. In addition to the X-ray evidence in Weiss’s thesis, there is a description of them in the TLG report.

We know that Monge had Delisha’s remains in 2018, and talked about keeping remains together in their original box, as is the standard practice of anthropologists, alluding to the likelihood that Delisha’s remains were transported to Mann’s house in the box with Katricia’s remains. I believe Mann and Monge had reason to withhold the whereabouts of Delisha, given Segal’s Postmortem Examination Addenda from November 15 of 1985 on the remains. He states that it’s “therefore possible” that “both G and Delisha could be one and the same.” Segal also describes resignation about furthering any dispute about the identity of Delisha Africa. Monge stated that she, Segal, and the City Medical Examiner’s Office had “accepted the Commission’s experts’ findings on the identity of those remains” referring to the remains labeled “Body G,” per TLG’s report. In other words, they had no reason to retain Delisha’s remains, which they accepted were identified.

I spoke to Dr. Lyra D. Monteiro, Assistant Professor of History & American Studies at Rutgers University-Newark. She stated to me that the former curator of the Morton Cranial Collection’s possession of Black children’s remains is “the most extreme example of Black people not mattering, alive or dead.” She further explained that “these were convenient props for her mentor’s ego, until they were inconvenient, because they were identified.”

“Monge’s level of disregard for the dead is unnatural,” Monteiro continued. “That’s a result of centuries and decades of socialization in the science of the European Enlightenment, created to cope with and justify the violence of colonial genocide.” 

This is a disgusting game of hide and seek with the bodily remains of Black children. I demand that Princeton and Penn denounce the continued violence of this act and that a forensic specialist not tied to the universities be commissioned to investigate where the lost bones of Delisha are. Mann’s Emeritus designation at both Penn and Princeton University should be revoked; as Princeton students have previously demanded. Monge should be disallowed to further any work that deals with human remains and should be immediately dismissed by Penn. We must do this for the families still dealing with the wounds of last year. 

Editor’s Note 4/20/22, 1:40pm EDT: In a statement to Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for Penn Museum wrote that “Reuniting the human remains from the 1985 MOVE tragedy with the Africa Family was a priority, upon learning they were at the Penn Museum.” The spokesperson continued:

While commissioning an independent investigation by the Tucker Law Group, the Museum also reached out to MOVE family members in the Spring of 2021 for guidance about reuniting the human remains. After consultation with Consuewella, Janine, Janet, and Sue Africa, the remains in the Museum’s possession were received by the Africa Family on July 2, 2021. 

The Tucker Law Group’s independent investigation subsequently determined that claims regarding a second set of MOVE remains at the Museum 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. 

The Museum remains committed to the ethical stewardship of any and all human remains in our care, and to prioritize human dignity as we work towards a respectful resolution. Our focus continues to be as transparent as possible in the assessment of any credible new evidence that may come to light.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a Philadelphia-born organizer, writer, and co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Co-op. In their work, they often problematize medical surveillance, discuss the importance...