Penn anthropologist Janet Monge has sued the university and other organizations for defamation, following accusations of mishandling the remains of the 1985 MOVE bombing victims.
Monge claims, in a civil complaint filed on Friday, that the accusations – published last spring in The Inquirer and Billy Penn articles – harmed her reputation and that she was unfairly depicted as a racist. The lawsuit has been issued against Penn, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Association of Black Anthropologists, and the Society of Black Archaeologists, among other groups.
In April 2021, The Inquirer and Billy Penn published opinion pieces that exposed the Penn Museum of being in possession of the remains of children from the bombing. Thereafter, the Penn Museum issued two public apologies and demoted Monge from her position as associate curator.
The articles from both media outlets contained information revealing how Monge and her mentor, Alan Mann, kept possession of the remains of children for over thirty years. The remains were, in fact, identified by the city and concluded to belong to a 14-year-old girl named Katricia “Tree” Dotson Africa. They were used in an online Coursera class for teaching purposes without the Africa family’s consent.
In 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a West Philadelphia house occupied by MOVE, a black liberation group. The explosion killed 11 people, including five children, leaving more than 250 citizens homeless.
After the bombing, the children’s bones were given to Mann to examine. The remains were neither identified nor returned to the city. Last year, both Penn and the City of Philadelphia launched investigations into the mishandling of the bodies after they learned that the order for cremation of the remains was never carried out.
In her lawsuit, Monge claims that the remains had not been identified as a child killed in the bombing and that her use of the word “juicy” to describe the remains in a class she taught, was not offensive but rather a regular term used in her field of study.
According to The Inquirer, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad – author of the original Inquirer article – called Monge’s claims “baseless.”
“There’s literally a video of her holding up the remains, calling them ‘juicy.’ And then she claims she’s someone who has been fighting for social justice. Why would you hold up the remains of a Black child and call them ‘juicy’ on camera?” Muhammad told The Inquirer.