We demand the truth about Tree Africa and Delisha Africa’s remains.
TW — abuse of human remains, police violence
Recent reporting by our comrade Abdul-Aliy Muhammad has exposed the Penn Museum’s attempted cover-up of its possession of the remains of Delisha Africa. Delisha Africa was 12 years old on May 13th 1985, when she was murdered by police during the infamous bombing and burning of the MOVE home at 6221 Osage Ave. She was killed alongside Tree Africa (also known as Katricia Dotson), age 14, and nine other Black victims. For almost 40 years, pieces of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa’s remains were held by anthropologists between Princeton University and the Penn Museum without the consent of their families. They were handled by investigators, anthropologists, and students, used for research and display, and stored in a cardboard box in Professor Janet Monge’s office.
Last year, when our comrades brought this horrific behavior to light, we took action against the museum, demanding that Delisha and Katricia’s remains be returned to their families. We stood with MOVE organizers and family members calling for reparations, full accountability for those involved, and a transparent, community-led investigation into how and why this could happen.
Penn’s response has been bungled, or in the words of our comrade Krystal Strong, a series of “white supremacist moves to innocence,” resulting in further harm and retraumatization for the families of Delisha Africa and Tree Africa. Instead of a transparent process, Penn hired their own lawyers to conduct an investigation behind closed doors. That investigation condemned the treatment of Katricia and Delisha’s remains as “grossly insensitive to human dignity,” yet recommended no sanctions for any of the professors involved. Just as the city’s investigation of the bombing found no cops directly accountable, so too have the anthropologists who violated the sacred dignity of Katricia and Delisha’s remains been let off the hook. The system works as it is designed to: deflecting responsibility from individuals, especially white ones, and offering little material recourse for those who suffer the most.
In light of recent reporting, Penn’s investigation now reads like a systematic attempt to keep evidence of Delisha Africa’s remains out of the public record. Despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary — including an undergraduate thesis about Delisha Africa’s remains written by one of Janet Monge’s students, Jane Weiss — Penn continues to deny the presence of Delisha Africa’s remains in their collections. We can only interpret this as a cover-up, further shielding those complicit in anti-Black violence from accountability and continually reproducing harm and trauma for those most impacted, especially Delisha Africa’s mother Janet Africa. We understand this constant retraumatiziation as an essential tactic of white supremacist counterinsurgency. We refuse to stay silent.
- We demand the Return Delisha Africa’s sacred remains, NOW. We want full transparency as to their whereabouts and why they have been left out of Penn’s report.
- In solidarity with Delisha’s mother Janet Africa, we uplift the demand to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! For decades, Janet Africa and her comrades in MOVE have been fighting for the release of their comrade, a political prisoner, activist, and freedom fighter. We demand that Penn use all of its institutional influence to pressure those in power to free Mumia. Free them all!
In addition, we reiterate our unmet demands:
- Financial reparations to the families of Tree Africa and Delisha Africa for the continued harm and trauma caused by the University and the Penn Museum’s use of their remains as teaching tools, and by Coursera for their profits made from the abuse of these remains. If such financial reparations have already been made privately, we demand transparency around the University’s process for making them.
- The termination of Janet Monge from her role as curator at the Penn Museum. You do not get to publicly handle the bones of deceased family members without the family’s permission and continue to work as a curator of physical anthropology at the Penn Museum.
- The creation of a transparent, public investigation led by Mike Africa Jr of the MOVE organization, funded by the University into how these specific remains ended up in the Penn Museum’s possession over the past 35 years. The Tucker Law Group’s current report fails completely to accomplish this: it does not offer a clear timeline of the movement of the remains from the Medical Examiner’s office to the Penn Museum; it does not account for institutional complicity beyond the behavior of a few individual actors, or how this “open secret” was allowed to exist for so long; and it erases the presence of Delisha Africa’s remains.
These demands are only the beginning. The revelations around Tree Africa and Delisha Africa’s remains are only the latest evidence that the Penn Museum is fundamentally an imperialist, white supremacist, heteropatriarchical, settler colonial institution. From the Morton Collection of human crania to the thousands of artifacts looted from Black, Indigenous, and colonized peoples, every brick of the Penn Museum is laid on a foundation of genocidal violence. The museum functions as it was meant to — tearing objects and ancestors from their communities and dehumanizing Black, Indigenous, and formerly colonized people in the name of “science” and “art.” No amount of committees, reforms, or diversity hires will change this fundamental truth. We stand with Penn Museum Workers United and our allies inside, you know who you are. We will not stop until the Museum provides full acknowledgement and redress for its unethical acquisition and possession of its many holdings.