In separate statements released this week, the universities of Princeton and Pennsylvania apologized to the MOVE organization for keeping the remains of victims of the horrific 1985 Philadelphia bombing instead of returning them to their families.
To date, the incident, which was sparked by confrontations between the Black religious organization and the police, remains one of the worst tragedies in the history of Philadelphia. The bombing killed about 11 people, including five children and destroyed over 60 homes, leaving more than 200 homeless. The explosives were dropped by a state helicopter.
The apology from both institutions comes after a report by The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed that the remains of children who died in the bombing had been kept in the Penn Museum for several years. The report revealed the remains were handed over to Alan Mann, a Professor Emeritus of Anthropology following the bombing for further examination as the city could not identify them.
Mann, who was then a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly stored the remains at the Penn Museum. He, however, carried them with him to Princeton when he joined the institution in 2001, later taking them back to the Penn Museum about five years later for researchers to attempt identifying them again, a spokesperson at the museum told the news outlet.
The report also revealed that the said remains – in recent years – were being used by another Penn anthropologist, Professor Janet Monge, for an online public forensics course for Princeton, The Daily Princetonian reported. The online course in question was, however, taken down by the Ivy League institution on Friday.
In a statement to the news outlet on Tuesday, Ben Chang, a spokesperson for Princeton, said the institution is sorry for “contributing to the pain experienced by the Africa [surname used by members of MOVE] family.”
“As President Eisgruber has said, ‘This nation’s long legacy of racism continues to damage and destroy the lives of Black people,’” Chang added. “We recognize the bombing of the MOVE house and its aftermath are part of that legacy.”
The University of Pennsylvania also issued an apology a day earlier, saying it was also going to look into why the institution kept the remains of one of the members of the group for several years, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“We understand the importance of reuniting the remains with the family and we are working now to find a respectful, consultative resolution,” a spokesperson for the university said. “… We are reassessing our practices of collecting, stewarding, displaying, and researching human remains.”
Those remains, which include a pelvic bone and part of a femur, have reportedly been transported to and fro the two universities on a number of occasions. However, the executive director of the Penn Museum claimed the remains had been given back to Mann.
In an interview on Monday, Mann claimed the remains weren’t in his possession and the last time he saw them was over ten years ago. “I would’ve given them back years ago, if anyone had asked me,” he said. “There’s absolutely no reason for us to keep them. They should be given back.”
“The city of Philadelphia murdered these people,” Mann added. “I have always felt badly for them.”
Meanwhile, members of the group rejected the apologies, with a member referring to the museum as “body snatchers” and “grave robbers” during a press conference on Monday, The Philadephia Inquirer reported.
“I could not imagine, in my worse nightmare, that the government would drop a bomb on us and kill my brothers and sisters. And I could not have imagined 36 years later that they would be displaying parts of our family as if they’re some dinosaur relics that they dug up,” Mike Africa, another member, said. “Our family has been through so much, and the abuse and the trauma continues. But we are strong, and we ain’t never giving in.”
A member who lost two children in the bombing, also said: “Some 36 years later they come to us and say they got some bones of our children. You go to hell with that bull—. Mother’s Day is coming up soon. We will never be able to hug and embrace our children.”
The group has tabled a list of demands, including the release of former Black Panther member Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was convicted in 1981 for the murder of Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer.
The other demands, which were outlined in a petition, include the return of the remains to MOVE, an investigation into the “unethical possession” of the remains by the two universities and the termination of Monge by the University of Pennsylvania. They are also demanding a formal apology from both universities as well as reparations for the “atrocities”, The Daily Princetonian reported.