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Ivy League Secret Exposed: Classes Used Bones of Black Children Killed in 1985 MOVE Police Bombing

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Image Credit: Coursera

Outrage is growing in Philadelphia after explosive revelations that the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University have been in possession of remains thought to belong to two children who were among 11 people killed in the 1985 police bombing of the Philadelphia home of the radical, Black liberation and anti-police-brutality group MOVE. We show an excerpt of a training video — now removed from the internet — by an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University who has been using the bones of at least one of the young bombing victims for the past 36 years — without the knowledge or consent of the families — and get response from a MOVE family member. “It makes you wonder: What else do they have?” says Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation MOVE member who grew up with the children whose remains have now been located. “What else are they covering up? What else are they lying about?”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. If you’d like to get our daily email digest, go to — send the word “democracynow” — one word — to 66866. That’s “democracynow,” text it to 66866.

We turn now to shocking revelations that two Ivy League schools — the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University — have been in possession of bones thought to belong to children who were killed in the 1985 police bombing of the Philadelphia home of the radical, Black liberation, anti-police-brutality group MOVE.

In a minute, we’ll show you video of the remains being used in an online teaching course, and get response from Mike Africa Jr. But first, we go back to that day, May 13, 1985, when the Philadelphia police killed six adults and five children, destroyed over 60 homes, burning an entire block to the ground by bombing the MOVE house. In a 2010 interview on Democracy Now!, Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor of the 1985 attack, described what happened after the bomb was dropped on their house.

RAMONA AFRICA: In terms of the bombing, after being attacked the way we were, first with four deluge hoses by the fire department and then tons of tear gas, and then being shot at — the police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at us in the first 90 minutes — there was a lull. You know, it was quiet for a little bit. And then, without any warning at all, two members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s bomb squad got in a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter and flew over our home and dropped a satchel containing C4, a powerful military explosive that no municipal police department has. They had to get it from the federal government, from the FBI. And without any announcement or warning or anything, they dropped that bomb on the roof of our home.

Now, at that point, we didn’t know exactly what they had done. We heard the loud explosion. The house kind of shook. But it never entered my mind that they dropped a bomb on us. But the bomb did in fact ignite a fire. And not long after that, it got very, very hot in the house, and the smoke was getting thicker. At first we thought it was tear gas. But as it got thicker, it became clear that this wasn’t tear gas, that this was something else. And then we could hear the trees outside of our house crackling and realized that our home was on fire. And we immediately tried to get our children, our animals, our dogs and cats, and ourselves out of that blazing inferno.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Ramona Africa describing the police bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia in 1985. In November, the Philadelphia City Council formally apologized for the police bombing, which killed six adults and five children and destroyed the surrounding 60 homes.

Memories of the attack that killed the 11 people were resurfaced last week, when the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University acknowledged that for the past 36 years anthropologists have been using the bones of at least one of the bombing victims, 14-year-old Tree Africa.

In a video course posted online called “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” Penn Museum curator Janet Monge, a visiting Princeton University professor, holds bones thought to be of Tree Africa. The video is no longer available for public viewing, but anyone who already registered for the course can still access it. Democracy Now! obtained a copy from the Africa family. This is a clip.

JANET MONGE: This is one of these cases where the material has some flesh on it, which, you know, is not uncommon, actually, in forensics, in forensic anthropology. In this case, there is some soft tissue which is actually remaining. And the bones were actually burned, as well. So, it’s got quite a complicated history.

So, I’ll pick up just for a moment and show you that this is really the tissue which is present on the specimen. It’s not a lot, but absolutely it’s there. This is the tendon that goes to rectus femoris, that’s actually intact, and it’s there. The femur is with much less tissue associated with it, but you still have in the fovea capitis the anchoring ligament which is present in the head of the femur.

The bones are, I mean, we would say, like, juicy, you know, meaning that you can tell that they are of a recently deceased individual. They have a lot of sort of sheen to them. At least this one does. And that is because, of course, there’s still marrow in the marrow cavity, and it’s sort of leaching basically out and into the bone, so it gives that kind of slick sort of appearance. If you smell it, it doesn’t actually smell bad, but it smells like just kind of greasy, like in older-style grease.

AMY GOODMAN: Since this video was reported on last week, the Penn Museum and the University of Pennsylvania have apologized to the Africa family for allowing human remains recovered from the MOVE house to be used for research and teaching and for retaining the remains for far too long.

The bones are reportedly now in the possession of Alan Mann, a professor emeritus at Princeton, who apparently received them from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office for forensic analysis in 1985. Mann told the outlet Inside Higher Education he’s working to return, quote, “the upper end of a thigh bone and a small part of one pelvic bone” to the examiner’s office and that he was, quote, “sorry to learn that there is a perception that what I did with the MOVE human remains was wrong,” he said. The Medical Examiner’s Office has said that if the remains are returned to their office, they would attempt to locate next of kin to claim them.

This controversy comes as the Penn Museum just apologized last week for holding more than 1,000 stolen skulls of enslaved people in its Morton Collection. Samuel Morton was a 19th century white supremacist researcher who directed workers to pull the bones from unmarked graves.

For more, we go to Philadelphia, where we’re joined by Mike Africa Jr., a second-generation-born MOVE member and host of the podcast On a Move with Mike Africa Jr. He’s the co-author of the upcoming book, Fifty Years ona Move, out next month.

Mike, welcome back to Democracy Now! We offer you our condolences on this news about the remains of two MOVE children, it’s believed, not only Tree Africa, but Delisha Africa, as well. Can you explain how you found out about this, and what you are demanding right now?

MIKE AFRICA JR.: Thanks for having me, Amy. I found out about this because a friend called me and told me that they heard about it. And when they told me, I was, shortly after, contacted by a local reporter, who was about to release a story about it.


AMY GOODMAN: And that was the —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mike, can you hear me?

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mike, I wanted to ask you — you knew Tree Africa and Delisha Africa. You were friends with them. What do you remember about them?

MIKE AFRICA JR.: You know, we spent years together in Virginia. See, back in the day, in the ’70s, when the confrontational atmosphere in Philadelphia was extreme for MOVE, members of the organization, John Africa sent the children to a place in Virginia to get away from this confrontational atmosphere, so Tree and Delisha and many other children were sent there. And when I was born in the jail, after I was born, my grandmother took me to Virginia, too, to be away from the crime and violence. And so, we were there together for years.

And then, when the house in Virginia was raided, too, and we were taken, all of us were put in an abusive orphanage, where we spent 11 days with our hair being combed out of our scalp. Some of us were pushed down steps. It was very, very abusive. And we were rescued from that situation, and we were brought back to Philadelphia, where we were reunited with other members of the organization. And we were living together. We were always together. And then we, you know, bounced around from house to house.

All of us — all of us were, I guess, unconventional orphans. Like, we were all together because all of our parents were in prison. Tree’s mother was in prison. Delisha’s, both her parents were in prison. And, of course, my parents were in prison, too. Delisha’s father is Delbert Africa. He’s best known for the beating he took from police on August 8th, 1978, where they kicked him and lifted him up off the ground with blows to his body as he was on the ground trying to cover his defenseless body.

And so, Tree and Delisha, I knew them both. Tree was the oldest of all the kids. She was very kind, and she was very responsible, and she was always being called on to help with the other kids because she was the oldest. And Delisha was like — she was like our little general. You know, she was like our leader almost. A lot of things went through her. As children, a lot of things, decisions that were made, the simple decisions, like how to sneak some cooked food that we weren’t really supposed to be eating, you know, came from her. And she was very, very, very strong and very clear-visioned. And, you know, we had our own plans that we wanted to do when we got older, and we’d talk about these things together.

And to know that this is happening now after all these years, and we’re so close to what happened May 13th, another anniversary gone by where we think about our families, is just devastating.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — I was a young reporter in Philadelphia during the 1985 MOVE bombing. I was there that day, most of the day spent with my good friend and fellow colleague at the Philadelphia Daily News, Linn Washington, as we were covering that event. We were astonished, as in the — late in the afternoon, as we saw the helicopter, that Pam Africa described, descending over the house, suddenly dropping the bomb. And what astonished us most was not only the bomb and the fire, but that then the fire trucks, for more than an hour, would not turn any water on. They would let the house burn to force everyone out of the house. And then, of course, as they came out, we later learned, police attempted to shoot them down as the people came out the burning house. I’m wondering your reaction to, more than 30 years later, an apology by the Philadelphia City Council, but yet no one has ever been held accountable or was ever indicted for what happened there that day.

MIKE AFRICA JR.: Yeah. You know, the apology came from a city councilwoman by the name of Jamie Gauthier, who put that apology in because we asked — I asked her to. And I asked her to because, you know, there is still a lot of unresolved issues here with our family and close members of our family, close supporters of our family, who are still involved in these unjust situations, people like Mumia Abu-Jamal.

And now that we found out that these — that the Penn and Princeton have the remains of our family, you know, it makes you wonder: What else do they have? What else are they covering up? What else are they lying about?

I mean, to have an apology is valuable, because that’s kind of like an admission. And we’re going to use that to flush out more, to prove the more injustices. And, you know, the system is controlled by pressure. John Africa said the system is controlled by pressure. And if you don’t keep the pressure on, they will do whatever they want to do. They’re not going to return the thousand skulls that they have. They’re not going to just stop killing people, unless they are pressured. And we have to find a way to apply that pressure. So, I don’t think the apology is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing.

AMY GOODMAN: This so — Mike, this so reminds me of Henrietta Lacks, the African American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line, one of the most important cell lines in medical research. At the time that she was dying, she never knew they were using her cancer cells. Her family, for years, did not know this. And now we see that these bones of the children of the MOVE bombing, one child, two children — as you said, you don’t know what happened to the remains of the 11 people killed in the MOVE house. But you also mentioned Mumia Abu-Jamal, in prison for life in Pennsylvania. We’ve just gotten word in the last days that he has survived serious open-heart surgery. Do you know about his condition, that he has congestive heart failure? And what are the causes of this?

MIKE AFRICA JR.: Yeah, I mean, what’s happening with Mumia’s health situation, it definitely is not just because he’s 67 years old. You know, many members of the organization and other people that are victims of the mass incarceral system in Pennsylvania and around the country are — they’re coming down with all kind of illnesses because of the treatment and the way that the system itself is set up to give them poor medical care and very, very low-quality food. You know, so, that’s just another issue. And that’s why it’s important to expose these injustices, so that we can use this exposure to get the people — arm the people with information, so that the people can use the information to pressure the system.

You know, we definitely want an investigation, as a collateral descendant of some of the people in the house May 13th. John Africa was my granduncle. And, you know, I don’t trust the Penn Museum. I don’t trust Princeton. I definitely want to say that there is more to come with this. From my point of view, from where I’m standing, I feel that there needs to be done — there needs to be accountability, because the reaction, the people — Penn’s reaction to this is totally unprofessional, making an apology through a statement through someone else. And, you know, the whole thing just is egregious. People are suffering and have been suffering for over 36 years just because of the bombing, but —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling for the bones back?

MIKE AFRICA JR.: The bones to the children —

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

MIKE AFRICA JR.: That will be decided by their parents.

AMY GOODMAN: Mike Africa, I want to thank you so much. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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