On Wednesday, over a hundred students gathered on the lawn outside Nassau Hall to stand in solidarity with the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in protest of Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania’s handling of the remains of 1985 MOVE police bombing victims.
Both Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania have been the center of controversy since local Philadelphia newspaper BillyPenn, along with an opinion piece in The Philadelphia Inquirer, revealed on April 21 that the remains of the children who were victims of the 1985 MOVE police bombings sat in the University of Pennsylvania Museum for decades. The remains, which were identified as belonging to 14-year-old Tree Africa and 12-year-old Delisha Africa, were in the custody of Professor Emeritus of Anthropology Alan Mann and former Visiting Professor Janet Monge, curator of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s physical anthropology section.
The reports also revealed that Monge used the remains in a public online forensics course offered by Princeton entitled, “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology.”
As of Friday, the remains of the MOVE bombings victims have been moved from Mann’s home to a West Philadelphia funeral home.
In May of 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on the rowhouse where members of the communal group MOVE lived. The bomb started a fire and police ordered firefighters to let it burn. Eleven people, including five children, were killed, and over 60 houses were destroyed. According to the University of Pennsylvania Museum spokesperson, the remains were given to Mann — a professor at the University of Pennsylvania at the time — for examination. They have been in his and Monge’s custody for 36 years.
Mann became a professor at the University in 2001. The University wrote in a statement to The Daily Princetonian that the remains have never been stored at Princeton.
Masha Miura ’21, one of the organizers of the protest near Nassau Hall, read the protesters’ demands out loud during the event. The students demanded that the University devote resources and monetary funds to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s release. Abu-Jamal is a former member of the Black Panther party, journalist, and supporter of the MOVE organization who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1982 for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His supporters, along with the protesters, maintain his innocence.
The protesters also demanded that the University permanently remove the online course where the remains are used for instruction and use any proceeds from the course towards Abu-Jamal’s release, and that the Department of Anthropology improve departmental policies to prevent future abuse.
The University had suspended the course on April 23. In a statement, University Spokesperson Ben Chang confirmed that the course had been permanently removed. He also noted that the University does not receive any profits from the online course.
In addition, the protesters demanded that the University conduct an external investigation into the Department of Anthropology. Around the same time as the protest on Wednesday, President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 released a statement in which he reiterated the University’s apology to the Africa family and announced that he has “authorized a fact-finding effort, to be conducted by outside counsel, to help us gain a complete understanding of the scope and nature of Princeton’s role in the handling of the remains and related issues.”
“The University will share its findings and use them to help shape the steps we can take moving forward for our community,” Eisgruber wrote.
The protesters also wrote that the investigation ought to be “overseen by the larger student body and signatories of the Daily Princetonian opinion piece,” and that this body would conduct investigations annually.
The protesters’ final two demands were that the University revoke Mann’s emeritus status and that the University promote “classes, coursework, and syllabi” that amplify historically marginalized and excluded voices. The website for the Dean of the Faculty says that “the University reserves the right to rescind emeritus status for conduct inconsistent” with “the same ethical standards currently expected from all Princeton Faculty.”
The demands levied by the students coincide with demands made by MOVE itself: that the remains are returned to MOVE, that a full investigation is conducted of Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania’s “unethical possession” of the remains, that the University of Pennsylvania fire Monge, that the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton formally apologize, and that both institutions give “reparations for these atrocities.”
Organizers and protesters emphasized that alongside their own demands, their main goal was to amplify the demands made by MOVE.
“Our primary desire here today is simply to amplify and stand in solidarity with the very desires and demands of the Africa family and the MOVE organization,” organizer Erica Dugue ’21 said. “Princeton needs to defer to conversations led by the MOVE organization and the Africa family to the degree that the family members feel comfortable and have the capacity to do so.”
Dugue began the protest by summarizing the events of the 1985 bombing.
“The toll that police violence takes on young black girls is atemporal and unending,” she said. “This pain is intergeneration, enduring, and reinvigorated with every new blow from both the state and private institutions like Penn and Princeton.”
Anthropology Professor Laurence Ralph spoke at the protest. He thanked the protesters for being there and amplifying the voices of MOVE and the Africa family.
“Before you are Princeton students, and before I am a Princeton faculty member, I’m a human being,” Ralph said. “On a very human level I’ve been disturbed by the recent revelations about the MOVE organization and... Princeton’s complicity, specifically the [Anthropology] department’s complicity.”
Ralph read a statement from the Association of Black Anthropologists, the Society of Black Archaeologists, and the Black in Bioanthropology Collective. The statement included the demands made by MOVE, which Ralph also read aloud, to applause from the gathered protesters.
In addition to the MOVE demands, the statement Ralph read also included demands that the University of Pennsylvania self-report an Institutional Review Board violation and that the American Anthropological Association help facilitate the repatriation of the remains. The statement also called for a “national audit of all human remains in museum and university collections.”
“We believe it is imperative that this information become public record, allowing descended communities to reclaim sovereignty of the remains of their ancestors,” the statement reads. “Let us bury our dead.”
Also speaking to the protesters, Kristal Grant ’24 criticized the use of the remains as a pedagogical tool.
“There isn’t a current reality in which Black people aren’t commodified,” Grant said. “We aren’t even allowed to rest in the afterlife, not even after being murdered by white supremacy.”
Grant is an associate opinion editor for the ‘Prince.’
Grant described the remains being returned as a “compromise.” Her remarks were followed by a reading of “Black Afterlives Matter,” an article written in 2018 by Professor of African American Studies Ruha Benjamin.
Toward the end of the protest, the students paused to give attendees time to send emails to Chair of the Anthropology Department Carolyn Rouse and other administrators using a template provided by the organizers.
“As Princeton students, we must also hold our institution accountable for their complicity in such insidious disrespect for human life,” Dugue said.
In a statement to the ‘Prince,’ the University of Pennsylvania museum wrote that “reuniting the remains with MOVE family members is our goal.”
“Williams Director Chris Woods has personally reached out to the Africa family, and their ongoing conversations will help us understand the family’s wishes as we work towards a respectful resolution,” the museum wrote.
At Princeton, Eisgruber wrote that “the University will share its findings” that result from the fact-finding effort by outside counsel.
“It is important to find and share the facts when we fall short, and to take corrective action that allows us to realize our commitment and fulfill our responsibilities,” he wrote.
When asked if she was optimistic following the protest, Dugue said that the idea that there is a way to repair or repay the loss of human life in 1985 is “fictitious.” Acknowledging that, however, Dugue said her work and the work of those attending the protest is to hold institutions like Princeton accountable.
“All we can do is continue to work with them and demand more from them,” Dugue said.