Penn Museum, Princeton Treatment of MOVE Bombing Victim Remains Spark Controversy
April 22, 2021
The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum and Princeton University have recently drawn attention for their handling of human remains discovered in the wake of the 1985 MOVE rowhouse bombing in West Philadelphia, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Following the bombing, carried out by the Philadelphia Police Department against MOVE, a radical Black separatist group, eleven bodies were discovered in the burned-out structure. One set of remains, comprising a pelvic bone and part of a femur, could not at the time be identified, and was turned over by an investigating commission to Penn anthropology professor Alan Mann for forensic analysis.
The bones remained at Penn Museum for sixteen years; in 2001 Mann took them to Princeton with him when he accepted a faculty position there. Following the establishment of a new anthropology lab at Penn, Mann in 2016 returned the remains to that institution in the hopes that experts there would be able to identify them. The bones were in 2019 featured in an online class offered by Princeton and taught by Penn Museum curator Janet Monge, a former student of Mann’s. Penn is said to have returned the bones to Mann on April 17.
At issue besides their possession is the identification of the remains, which have been variously posited as belonging to Katricia Dotson, a fourteen-year-old girl known to be killed in the bombing, and as being those of a young adult woman. Should the latter be the case, the victim count of the police action would rise from eleven to twelve.
In an op-ed in the Inquirer published yesterday, activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad called for reparations and apologies from Princeton and Penn. Muhammad cited the institutions’ treatment of the remains as consistent with a disrespect for Black life, while representatives from both Princeton and Penn have characterized their stewardship of the bones as in the service of discovering their identity, and of training students to identify remains. Penn has said as well that it is reassessing its policies in regard to the stewardship, display, and researching of human remains. The institution earlier this month announced its intentions to repatriate remains of Black Philadelphians held in its Morton Cranial Collection, which was assembled by white supremacist Samuel George Morton in the nineteenth century.