An organizer and writer at the center of the revelations over Penn Museum’s handling of victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing says new evidence shows there are still remains unaccounted for.
“Return the remains of Delisha Africa!” writer Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad demanded, marching through Penn Museum after an early morning press conference.
In the aftermath of the 2021 news that Penn Museum still held some victim remains, the institution, part of the University of Pennsylvania, only ever acknowledged possession of bones from one of the children killed in the bombing, identified as Katricia Dotson.
This assertion was repeated in findings of three separate investigations spurred by the controversy over the remains, based mostly on interviews with Janet Monge, the former Penn Museum curator who had led the related research. Dotson’s remains were returned to her family last year.
But the museum had another set of remains that’s still unaccounted for, Muhammad said on Thursday, presenting a photograph from 2014 they say disproves Monge’s statements.
“Janet Monge lied about not having the remains of Delisha Africa,” Muhammad said, adding, “Penn doesn’t know what it has.”
In a statement, Penn Museum reiterated its commitment to reviewing any new evidence, and promised it would take the new allegations seriously.
“University leaders met with the individuals who were at the museum today and will investigate the information they provided to the fullest extent,” a spokesperson said, pointing to a landing page set up to disclose related information.
“Penn Museum reunited all known MOVE remains with the Africa Family in July 2021,” the spokesperson added.
Billy Penn has reached out to Monge for comment, but did not receive a response at time of publication. We will update if received.
The photos appear to show Monge at Penn Museum, displaying to the general public bones from both Dotson and Delisha Africa, according to Muhammad, based on conversations with people trained in the study of bone structures.
Muhammad and Lyra Monteiro, an assistant professor at Rutgers — who both are part of Finding Ceremony, an organization dedicated to repatriating the remains of Philadelphians and others’ remains from museums — on Thursday called for expert verification of the photos.
They had reached out to experts privately, they said, but none have yet chosen to work with them publicly.
The photos could have legal implications: Muhammad is a codefendant in a still-pending defamation suit filed by Monge in which her complaint is partly premised on the possession of only one set of remains.
In the lawsuit, referencing a 2021 Billy Penn article, Monge’s attorneys say “the bone fragments properly provided to and retained by Dr. Monge were not related to the child identified in the defamatory reports.” Billy Penn is also a codefendant in the lawsuit, along with Penn, The Inquirer, and other media outlets.
The new images, which show Monge in front of a display table covered with bones that are reportedly MOVE remains, were found on an online photo sharing site from a public event hosted at the Penn Museum, according to Muhammad, who called them “the earliest photographic evidence” that the remains of both children were at the museum.
To date, Penn Museum has only accepted responsibility for the bones of one child victim, which were shown in a now-removed Coursera online forensics course headlined by Monge.
Over the past few years, museums around the world have begun reckoning with human remains in their possession. Penn Museum in 2021 began an effort to repatriate and bury hundreds of skulls that were part of its once-renowned Morton Cranial Collection. Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum is currently embroiled in a debate over how to handle its collection of human “oddities.”
Remains of victims of the MOVE bombing, which saw local law enforcement set fire to and subsequently destroy an entire block of West Philadelphia, were also discovered in the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office, leading to the resignation of the health commissioner and a lawsuit from a surviving family member.
Ramona Africa, the last person alive who survived the actual bombing was at the conference, said it’s clear she can’t trust the museum to return authentic remains after decades of misdirection. Her and Carlos Africa’s sole demand was the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, similar to what was shared at a 2021 press conference.
“If they wanna do anything to show people that they are sincere about resolving this situation … let Mumia out,” Janine Africa said at the time. “He’s still alive”
After Muhammad marched into Penn Museum on Thursday, they sat down in an office where educational staff were working. After those staffers left, Penn police and museum security entered and shut everyone save Muhammad and Monteiro out of that room, according to a reporter on site.
The West Philadelphia museum then appeared to temporarily close its doors to the general public. Monteiro called for people to show up to support the demand for the return of remains.