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MOVE Demands Answers On Missing Children's Remains

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Members of the Black revolutionary organization MOVE are speaking out over the disappearance of the remains of two children killed in the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. In May of that year, the city dropped a bomb on a row house that was home to the organization. Eleven people were killed. Among them, two sisters - children Tree and Delisha Africa. It seems the girls' bones have been shuttling between the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University ever since. Now, neither school knows where the remains are. Reporter Layla A. Jones joins us from WHYY.

Hi, Layla.

LAYLA A JONES, BYLINE: Hi. How are you?

KELLY: Hey. I'm all right, thank you. I want to get to what is happening now, but I think it may be easier to follow if you first give us a little more detail about this organization and what happened 35 years ago.

JONES: Sure. MOVE was started in the early 1970s, and they lived communally. They operate as a family, so all members took the last name Africa. The group is very much still active. It espouses ideology about systemic racism and oppression. They fight in favor of environmentalism and animal rights. So they clashed for years with police and city government, and an officer was killed in a 1978 shootout with MOVE. So on May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police, fire department and the mayor at the time decided to drop a bomb on the West Philadelphia MOVE row home, and they let the fire burn.

KELLY: Well, let's focus on those children and specifically, these two girls, Tree and Delisha. How did their remains end up at these two universities?

JONES: Yeah. So the remains that Penn and Princeton once had ownership of, they were identified as belonging to 14-year-old Tree Africa and her sister, 12-year-old Delisha Africa. But MOVE members say they don't necessarily believe what the government has said about that. But the remains are a femur and part of a pelvic bone. The city gave the bones to a professor at Penn named Alan Mann, who was a researcher there, to conduct an independent investigation into the bombing. But when Mann left Penn to go to Princeton, Tree and Delisha's bones traveled with him.

KELLY: Hang on. Let me just stop you there because I'm wondering, where were the parents? Why didn't the remains stay with the family?

JONES: MOVE, the family continues to emphasize that they did not know that the city had the remains. They did not know that the universities ever had possessions of their family members' remains, and they didn't even find out until the media reports broke this news.

KELLY: And to this confusion over where the remains are now, what do we actually know?

JONES: Right now, we don't know where they are. Penn nor Princeton claims to know where the bones are, but the Penn Museum today did issue an apology for its role. Also today, MOVE member Janine Africa spoke at a press conference, and this is what she had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JANINE AFRICA: So if they want to do anything, anything to show people that they are sincere about resolving this situation with MOVE and the city, let Mumia out. He's still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Yes.

AFRICA: Let him out. That's what you could do, save his life because they have already taken the lives of our other family members, and we don't want to hear nothing else from them.

JONES: So Mumia Abu-Jamal was a journalist and also a MOVE supporter. He is in prison right now for the 1981 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer, but MOVE and others maintain that Mumia is innocent

KELLY: That is Layla A. Jones. She's a reporter with member station WHYY and Billy Penn in Philadelphia.

Thank you, Layla.

JONES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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