John Africa

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John Africa
Born Vincent Leaphart
(1931-07-26)July 26, 1931
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died May 13, 1985(1985-05-13) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Known for founder of MOVE

John Africa (July 26, 1931 – May 13, 1985), born Vincent Leaphart, was a founder of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based black liberation group prominent in the United States in the early 1970s. He died while involved in an armed standoff with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Early life, work, and death[edit]

Africa was born Vincent Leaphart on July 26, 1931 in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Leaphart's mother died when he was young and he blamed the hospital where she was being treated for her death. By the age of 9, he had been classified "orthogenetically backward," what educators today call educably mentally retarded. When he was first tested, his IQ was measured at 84; tested again eight years later at age 15, his score fell to 79. Transferred to a special school where slow-learners could be taught simple trades, he compiled a spotty attendance record. Twice, at age 11 and again at 13, his teacher rated his overall performance as unsatisfactory, though Leaphart always did fine in civics. His scholastic ability had reached the third-grade level when, at age 16, he dropped out. At 17, he was arrested for an armed holdup and for stealing a car (court records no longer list the case's outcome).[1]

Leaphart served in the Korean War,[2] from which he derived an early hatred of the 'American class system' and its ties to race. He adopted the name "John Africa" because of his ethnic origin as an African-American, and because he believed Africa to be the place where life originated.[2]

Africa later met Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania, with whom he began to collaborate. Glassey's notes would eventually become a document called The Guideline.[3]

Glassey, after being found in possession of weapons, was later arrested; he implicated Africa and other MOVE members in various crimes. On July 23, 1981 in the Philadelphia federal court, Africa and his co-defendant Alfonso Africa (representing themselves) were tried and acquitted on weapons and conspiracy charges by a jury that deliberated for almost six days. Law enforcement officials obtained indictments on the implicated members of MOVE and, on May 13, 1985, attempted to arrest them, which led to an armed standoff with MOVE and a subsequent massacre of the black activists by the Philadelphia Police Department.[4] During the raid, Africa was killed along with six other adults and four children when the Philadelphia Police Department head of bomb disposal, on board a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, dropped a satchel containing a gel-based explosive on a fortified bunker occupied by members of MOVE. The resulting explosion started a fire that resulted in the destruction of 65 homes in the neighborhood. The order was given by city officials to "let the fire burn." The explosion, fire, and shootout killed all but two members of MOVE who were present, leaving Ramona and Birdie Africa severely burned. Birdie was released while Ramona went on to serve her maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.[5]

Influence on others[edit]

Mumia Abu-Jamal follows the teachings of John Africa,[6] and was a supporter of the MOVE organization.[7] During Abu-Jamal's 1982 murder trial, Abu-Jamal made repeated requests to be represented by Africa, which were denied by the presiding judge since Africa was not an attorney.[8]

See also[edit]