Two Ivy League institutions, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton, are facing mounting demands to apologise and make restitution for their handling over decades of the bones of African American children killed by Philadelphia police in 1985.
As calls pour in for action to be taken over the use of the children’s remains as props in an online Princeton anthropology course – without permission from parents of the dead children – there is also rising concern about the whereabouts of the bones.
Fragments belonging to one or possibly two Black children have been held by the universities for 36 years, but now appear to have gone missing.
They are currently in use as a “case study” in an online forensic anthropology course fronted by Princeton that is openly available on the internet. The bones are shown on camera as teaching tools – without the blessing of relatives who were unaware their loved ones’ remains were harboured in academic collections.
The course, Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology, is presented by Prof Janet Monge, an expert on bone collections who is on faculty at both Princeton and Penn. On video, she holds up the pelvis and femur of a girl whose remains were collected from the ashes of the 13 May 1985 police bombing of the headquarters of Move, a Philadelphia-based black liberation and back-to-nature group.
Eleven group members died in the fire, including five children.
As calls grew from present-day Move members, Philadelphia politicians and academics for the institutions to be held accountable, Princeton eventually responded. It said it had only become aware of the controversy surrounding the class, distributed on the platform Coursera, on Wednesday but late on Friday the institution announced that it had decided to suspend the course.
“We are in the process of gathering and understanding all of the related facts, and out of respect for the victims of the Move bombing and their families we have suspended the online course,” Michael Hotchkiss, a Princeton spokesperson said.
But that is unlikely to satisfy those affected by the revelations. “There needs to be a full investigation and disclosure from all parties involved,” said Michael Africa Jr, a Move member who was six at the time of the bombing.
You don’t have to defend MOVE, which was (is I guess?) hardly some great group, to wonder what the hell is happening here. Maybe we need to close the entire Ivy League until we figure out how to make those institutions have even the slightest bit of accountability to the rest of the nation. Of course, it’s not as if the Philly police or even the city itself have apologizing for bombing it!