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Two anthropologists at the Penn Museum demonstrated “extremely poor judgement and a gross insensitivity” by holding for decades victim remains from the 1985 MOVE bombing, according to a highly-anticipated report commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania.
However, the report said, the anthropologists didn’t violate any standing policies, or violate any ethical or legal standards by holding onto or displaying remains received from the city Medical Examiner’s Office 36 years ago.
Conducted independently by the Tucker Law Group, a a Black-owned Philadelphia firm, the report did find now-retired professor Alan Mann and current museum curator Janet Monge exercised “extremely poor judgment” in their handling of the remains.
- Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades
- MOVE members mourn their children’s lives as Penn Museum apologizes for storing remains
- Philly health commissioner resigns over MOVE remains
Tucker Law investigators interviewed 40 people, reviewed thousands of pages of documents and conducted archival research to create the 92-page report that contains 26 exhibits.
The document provides sociocultural context about MOVE, police brutality, racism, and the anthropology museum’s Samuel Morton Cranial Collection, which it has vowed to repatriate. Invesitagors aso studied museum best practices, and offered recommendations for the institution’s future.
Mann came to possess the bones after the MEO sought his help in identifying who they belonged to. It was an open secret, the investigation confirmed, that the remains were from individuals killed in the MOVE bombing, and were kept in a filing cabinet for decades. They were also used in an online teaching course published with Princeton University.
The news shocked, disgusted, and outraged Philadelphians. Especially affected: Living MOVE members, including Consuewella Africa, whose daughter Katricia was thought to be one of the victims in question. Consuewella died in June at age 67.
In addition to an assessment of what happened and whether it broke any rules, the Tucker Law Group investigation explored inaccuracies in the news reports that led to public outcry.
Billy Penn was one of the outlets that broke the story in April that the museum had been holding remains of victims killed in the MOVE bombing, and had used those remains in a teaching video. The initial articles, by freelance reporter Maya Kassutto, who had previously worked at Penn Museum, indicated the remains were from two children.
The Tucker Law Group investigation, however, concluded there was no evidence Mann and Monge had more than one set of human remains. It reiterated that there was never a definitive consensus that those bone fragments belonged to 14-year-old Katricia.
It also found that one of the anthropologists had tried to return the remains to the Africa family on two separate occasions over the decades.
- Former MOVE members are speaking out about abusive behavior within the organization
- Mumia Abu-Jamal 101: How he ended up in prison, and why MOVE wants him freed
Following the spring news reports, leaders at UPenn, Penn Museum and Princeton, along with Mayor Jim Kenney, issued public apologies for their roles in the insensitive handling of the remains. Less than a month later, a separate set of MOVE victim remains were discovered at the Philadelphia health department, and the commissioner resigned. A city investigation into Medical Examiner’s Office practices around remains is ongoing.
Here are some key takeaways from the Tucker Law Group report:
- Despite what Penn Museum and Princeton told Billy Penn, MOVE remains did not bounce between UPenn and Princeton, but were held in Philadelphia from 1986 until they were returned to MOVE members this July.
- Penn Museum does have a policy on using remains of demonstrative artifacts, but it didn’t apply to the MOVE remains because they were “non-accessioned,” akak they hadn’t been formally added to their collection.
- Between 1986 when he obtained the human remains and 2001 when he left Penn for Princeton, Mann never attempted to contact MOVE family members or return the remains.
- Monge, however, did unsuccessfully attempt to contact MOVE family members on two separate occasions, in 1995 and again in 2014.
Additionally, the report offered seven recommendations for Penn Museum and the university. In a statement, the museum said it’s already working on some of the recommendations, including:
- Hiring a chief diversity officer,
- Reviewing the museum’s holding and collection processes and reassessing its human remains protocol
- Creating a new staff position dedicated to an anthropology/archaeology expert with experience in BIPOC advocacy and sensitive repatriation.
The report also recommended the university create a scholarship specifically for West Philadelphia residents, collaborate with the African American Museum in Philadelphia for an exhibit about race and anthropology, and create a permanent exhibit about the 1985 bombing on Osage Ave.