Sunday, 25 May 2014


                                       BLACK                SOCIAL            HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       MOVE or the MOVE Organization is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group founded by John Africa. MOVE was described by CNN as "a loose-knit, mostly black group whose members all adopted the surname Africa, advocated a 'back-to-nature' lifestyle and preached against technology".[1] The group lived communally and frequently engaged in public demonstrations related to issues they deemed important.
Since their founding in 1972, MOVE has been in frequent conflict with the Philadelphia Police Department. A major incident occurred in 1978, when the police raided their Powelton Village home. This raid resulted in the imprisonment of nine group members, now known as the "MOVE 9."[2] After this, the group relocated farther west to a house at 6221 Osage Avenue.
In 1985 the group made national news when police dropped a bomb on the Osage house from a helicopter in an attempt to end an armed standoff. The explosion and ensuing fire killed 11 people, including five children and the group's leader, John Africa. Only two occupants survived—Ramona, an adult, and Birdie, a child. In addition, approximately 60 other (non MOVE-affiliated) homes were destroyed as the entire block burned.[3]


MOVE was founded in 1972 as the "Christian Movement for Life" by John Africa, a charismatic leader who, though functionally illiterate, dictated a document describing his views known as The Guideline to community college professor Donald Glassey. Africa and his followers (the majority of them African-American), wore their hair in dreadlocks and advocated a radical form of green politics and a return to hunter-gatherer society while stating their opposition to science, medicine and technology.[citation needed] As John Africa himself had done, his devotees also changed their surnames to show reverence to Africa, which they regarded as their mother continent.[4]
The MOVE members lived in a commune in a house owned by Donald Glassey in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. MOVE members staged bullhorn-amplified,profanity-laced demonstrations against institutions which they opposed morally, such as zoos (MOVE had strong views on animal rights), and speakers whose views they opposed. MOVE made compost piles of garbage and human waste in their yards which attracted rats and cockroaches; they considered it morally wrong to kill the vermin with pest control. MOVE attracted much hostility from their neighbors, the majority of whom were African-Americans. The actions by MOVE brought close scrutiny from the Philadelphia police.[4]

1978 shoot-out

On August 8, 1978, an end was negotiated to an almost year-long standoff with police over orders to vacate the Powelton Village MOVE house. MOVE failed to relocate as required by a court order.[5] When police later attempted entry, Philadelphia police officer James J. Ramp was killed by a shot to the back of the head. MOVE representatives claim that he was facing the house at the time, which would therefore contradict the notion that MOVE was responsible for his death. Seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were injured in an unrelated crossfire.[6] As a result, nine MOVE members were found guilty of third-degree murder in the shooting death of a police officer. Seven of the nine became eligible for parole in the spring of 2008, and all seven were denied parole.[7][8] Parole hearings now occur yearly.

1985 bombing

In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors complained for years that MOVE members were broadcasting political messages by bullhorn at all hours and also about the health hazards created from piles of compost. On May 13, 1985, after the complaints as well as indictments of numerous[quantify] MOVE members for crimes including parole violation, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats,[9] the police department attempted to clear the building and arrest the indicted MOVE members. This led to an armed standoff with police.[10] The police lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. MOVE members fired at the police, and the police returned fire with semiautomatic weapons.[11] A Pennsylvania State Police helicopter then dropped two one-pound bombs made of FBI-supplied water gel explosive, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.[12]
The resulting fire ignited a massive blaze that eventually destroyed approximately 60 houses nearby.[3][12][13] Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children) died in the resulting fire.[14] Ramona Africa, one of the two survivors, claimed that police fired at those trying to escape the burning house, while the police stated that MOVE members had been firing at police.[15]


Mayor W. Wilson Goode soon appointed an investigative commission called the PSIC or MOVE commission. It issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that "Dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable."[16] No one from the city government was charged criminally.
In a 1996 civil suit in US federal court, a jury ordered the City of Philadelphia to pay $1.5 million to a survivor and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.[14] Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself."[17][18]
On the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Police bombing, the Philadelphia Inquirer created a detailed multimedia site containing retrospective articles, archived articles, videos, interviews, photos, and a timeline of the events.[19]
In fall 2013 Let the Fire Burn, a documentary composed largely of archival footage, was released.
The folk-punk band Mischief Brew wrote a song about the bombing called "Save a City," and the anarcho-punk band Leftover Crack wrote a song called "Operation: MOVE" describing the group's history and struggle against the police.

2002 murder of John Gilbride

After the death of John Africa, his widow, Alberta, married John Gilbride, Jr., a white man 20 years her junior, and had a child, Zackary Africa, circa 1996. The couple divorced in 1999. After a custody battle, a court ruling granted Gilbride partial custody of Zackary, allowing him unsupervised visits with his son. Gilbride moved to Maple Shade, NJ. Prior to Gilbride's first visitation date with Zackary, an unknown assailant shot Gilbride with an automatic weapon as he sat in his car shortly after midnight on September 27, 2002, while parked outside his home in an execution-style slaying. The case remains unsolved. MOVE initially conjectured that the U.S. government had assassinated Gilbride in order to frame MOVE. Alberta Africa, who initially acknowledged the murder, claimed in 2009 that Gilbride "is out hiding somewhere".[20]

Current activities

Ramona Africa acts as a spokesperson for the group and has given numerous talks at leftist events throughout the US and in other countries. Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, was closely involved with MOVE,[21] and MOVE continues to advocate for his release. MOVE has also called for the release of imprisoned MOVE members, whom the group considers political prisoners.
Birdie Africa, also known as Michael Moses Ward, the only child survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing, died in September 2013, at the age of 41. His death occurred in a hot tub on board the Carnival Dream, sailing in the Caribbean. Initial reports indicated an accidental drowning.[22]