Consuewella Africa, 67, Dies; Lost Two Daughters in MOVE Siege

One of the girls’ remains from a 1985 police attack are believed to have ended up in a cardboard box for use in a university forensics course, provoking outrage.,

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Consuewella Africa, whose two young daughters were among 11 victims of a police siege in West Philadelphia in 1985 that began when officers tried to arrest four members of the revolutionary group MOVE and ended after the police dropped a bomb on its fortified commune, died on Wednesday in Philadelphia. She was 67.

Her death was confirmed by MOVE, which said she had been hospitalized several weeks ago with lung problems.

The group said Ms. Africa had become ill after officials at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton publicly acknowledged in April that anthropologists had been using the unidentified bones of one of the siege’s young victims for research and in teaching an online course on forensics.

Ms. Africa, MOVE’s former minister of confrontation, was in prison at the time of the siege. She had been arrested in 1978 following the group’s armed standoff with the police in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia, in which an officer was killed. She was paroled in 1994.

In the 1985 episode, the police fired 10,000 rounds into MOVE’s rowhouse compound and deployed a helicopter that dropped bombs, igniting a fire that destroyed 65 homes. Eleven people, including five children, were killed.

The unidentified bones of one young victim had been turned over by the local medical examiner to an independent forensic anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania in 1985. The anthropologist was subsequently hired by Princeton. In 2016, after he retired, the bones were returned to the Penn Museum, where the curator made a video of a forensic examination of the bones for a Princeton online course.

MOVE members believed the bones belonged to one of Ms. Africa’s daughters, Zanetta, 12, known as Netta, or Katricia, 14, who was known as Tree. They were half sisters. A statement on MOVE’s website expressed confidence that the remains were those of Tree.

ImageThe scene in West Philadelphia in May 1985 after the police bombed the rowhouse compound of the revolutionary group MOVE.
The scene in West Philadelphia in May 1985 after the police bombed the rowhouse compound of the revolutionary group MOVE.Credit…Associated Press

The remains were supposed to have been cremated, but when The Philadelphia Inquirer and the news site Billy Penn reported in April that the bones had been stored in a cardboard box at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, Ms. Africa broke into tears.

“It’s just continuous, nonstop, vicious, violent, sadistic, ongoing abuse of the MOVE organization,” she said at a news conference.

“The MOVE organization is not just a bunch of people you see here,” she said. “We are a family, a unit. We stand together. This is my family. The family of John Africa. Our belief is life. Our children is life. Animals are life. Therefore, we stand together and fight for one life.”

MOVE was founded in 1972 by John Africa, born Vincent Leaphart. The name is shorthand for the original title, Christian Movement for Life. The group espouses a back-to-nature philosophy while promoting Black liberation. Members, most of them Black, have adopted Africa as a surname.

In 1988, a grand jury exonerated police officials of criminal liability in the siege. In 1990, Ms. Africa was awarded $125,000 in damages plus a $950 monthly annuity for each of her two daughters, guaranteed for 30 years.

Mike Africa Jr., who had been a childhood friend of Ms. Africa’s daughters, said his reaction to the revelation about the remains was “anger, fury, disappointment, sadness.”

“It’s like this never ends,” he told The New York Times, “and no matter how much time passes, and you hope that things can get to a place where you can begin to heal some, it’s right back up in your face.”

After the existence of the remains was reported in the news media, Christopher Woods, the director of the Penn Museum, said: “I would apologize for any trauma this has reintroduced. That certainly wasn’t our intention. Our intention was to help solve this case and restore the personhood and identity and dignity of this individual.”

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Ms. Africa in May speaking on the 36th anniversary of the police siege of MOVE’s compound.Credit…Tyger Williams/The Philadelphia Inquirer, via Associated Press

Consuewella Dotson was born on Aug. 11, 1953, in South Philadelphia. After graduating from a Roman Catholic high school, she became enraptured by the teachings of John Africa.

Her survivors include her husband, Frank Edwards; her sister and brother, Zelma and Isaac Dotson; and her son, Lionel Dotson.

The statement on MOVE’s website said that the organization had been notified that the remains had been sent to a local funeral home and expressed the hope that “we can put Tree and Consuewella together.”

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