Statement on MOVE Bombing Human Remains

Content warning: discussion of human skeletal remains; state-sanctioned police violence.

As members of Bryn Mawr College’s Department of Anthropology, we join our colleagues in the Bi-Co and around the nation in condemning the unethical keeping and use of remains of the MOVE family children, believed to be Katricia Tree Dotson Africa and Delisha Orr Africa, murdered in the 1985 bombing of the MOVE organization in West Philadelphia. We recognize and condemn the patterns of structural and racialized inequality and institutional and governmental negligence that have enabled this to happen. The fact that Tree’s and Delisha’s remains were held by two university departments for so long without being returned to the family represents an atrocious violation of human rights and ethical principles, which stress that human remains must be treated with dignity and repatriated or returned according to the wishes of those closest to the deceased whenever possible. This is also a violation of the professional code of ethics for both the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

We support the steps being made to address the demands of the MOVE family, including the return of Tree’s and Delisha’s remains, the apologies by the institutions directly involved, and the removal of the Coursera online course in which Tree’s and Delisha’s remains were displayed. We fully support the call for thorough and transparent investigations by UPenn and Princeton, which should be undertaken in agreement with the demands of the MOVE family, into how these remains were obtained and used over the years. We also call for a complete and transparent investigation into the role of the medicolegal establishment of the City of Philadelphia in this egregious violation of regulations and ethical standards in death investigations. We support the call for reparations to be paid to the MOVE family by these institutions.

Anthropology, like many other disciplines, has roots in colonial, racist, and extractive structures of power/knowledge. We must acknowledge our complicity in the structures that continue to perpetuate racism. We strive daily to do better, especially with respect to those most often excluded from consideration and representation, and to promote social justice and identify and dismantle racist institutional structures. As teachers and scholars, we are continuously reflecting on our roles in perpetuating the systems of power around us, and working to develop more just and equitable approaches in our study of human experience. We follow ethical best practices across all the subfields of anthropology, in our fieldwork, research, and teaching. To the best of our knowledge, the remains of the MOVE children were never present on our campus or used in anthropology courses at Bryn Mawr. We are committed to maintaining ethical procedures and practices in working with human remains, material culture, and the communities with whom we work.

Upcoming and recent webinars that may be of interest

Physical Anthropology, Evolution, and Histories of Scientific Racism (by the Center for Experimental Ethnography, UPenn, May 12, 2021)

Skeletons in Anthropological Closet: Museum Collections and the Demand for Principles of Accountability (by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, May 20, 2021)

Blinded by the White: Forensic Anthropology and Ancestry Estimation (February 19, 2021)


Contact Us

Department of Anthropology

Dalton Hall
Bryn Mawr College
101 N. Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Phone: 610-526-5030
Fax: 610-526-5655