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This article is about the organization MOVE. For other uses, see Move (disambiguation).

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 the Philadelphia police dropped two bombs 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. Its founder John Africa, a charismatic leader had, though functionally illiterate, dictated a document called The Guideline to Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. Africa and his followers (most, but not all of them African-American), wore their hair in dreadlocks. They advocated a radical form of green politics and a return to a 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 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[citation needed], the majority of whom were African-Americans. The actions by MOVE brought close scrutiny from the Philadelphia police.[4]

1978 shoot-out[edit]

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 ignored a court order to vacate the premises.[5] When police attempted entry, shooting erupted and 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 and deny MOVE responsibility for his death. Seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were also injured.[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[edit]

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 automatic 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 65 houses nearby. The firefighters who had earlier deluge-hosed the MOVE members to evict them from the building, stood by and watched the inferno caused after the military grade C-4 bomb engulfed the first house, refusing to intervene.[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, stated that police fired at those trying to escape the burning house, while the police stated that MOVE members had been firing at police.[15]

Police retrieved the remains of John Africa from the conflagration.[16] MOVE members, however, continue to speak of him in the present tense, implying that he still lives.[16]


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."[17] 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."[18][19]

2002 murder of John Gilbride[edit]

After the death of John Africa, his widow, Alberta, married John Gilbride, Jr., a white man 20 years her junior. They had a child, Zackary Africa, together 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.

On September 10, 2002, Gilbride testified in court that MOVE had threatened to kill him.[20] On September 27, shortly after midnight and prior to Gilbride's first visitation date with Zackary, an unknown assailant shot Gilbride with an automatic weapon in an execution-style slaying as he sat in his car parked outside his home. The case remains unsolved. MOVE initially made statements that the U.S. government had assassinated Gilbride in order to frame MOVE. Alberta Africa denied the murder took place, stating in 2009 that Gilbride "is out hiding somewhere".[21] Tony Allen, an ex-MOVE member, maintains that MOVE murdered Gilbride.

A September 19, 2012 "Blinq" column published in the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Gilbride had revealed to friends that he had recorded incriminating evidence in a notebook as security against a "hit" by MOVE. Gilbride had placed the notebook in a locker for safekeeping, but the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office declined to allow Philadelphia police to examine the contents of the locker following his murder.[22]

Ex-MOVE member Tony Allen has maintained in his Blogger site "The Anti-MOVE/Mumia Blog" that MOVE orchestrated Gilbride's shooting.[23]

Current activities[edit]

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,[24] MOVE continues to advocate for his release. MOVE has also called for the release of imprisoned MOVE members, whom the group regards as 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.[25]

In media[edit]


Despite its stated anti-technology stance, MOVE maintains a website encouraging visitors to support imprisoned MOVE members.[26] Former MOVE member Tony Allen maintains "The Anti-MOVE/Mumia Blog". Allen believes that Mumia-Abu-Jamal shot Daniel Faulkner and maintains that Ramona Africa orchestrated the death of John Gilbride, Jr.[27]

On the 25th anniversary of the 1985 bombing, the Philadelphia Inquirer created a detailed multimedia site containing retrospective articles, archived articles, videos, interviews, photos, and a timeline of the events.[28]

In music[edit]

The folk-punk band Mischief Brew wrote a song about the bombing called "Save a City". The anarcho-punk band Leftöver Crack wrote a song called "Operation: MOVE" describing the group's history and struggle against the police.


Let the Fire Burn, a documentary composed largely of archival footage, was released in the Fall of 2013. MOVE have promoted the documentary on their website.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Philadelphia, city officials ordered to pay $1.5 million in MOVE case; 1996-06-24; CNN
  2. ^ Tim Phillips, "The Eight Surviving 'Move Nine' Prisoners Have Been Incarcerated for Thirty-Five Years", Activist Defense, August 5, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Brian Jenkins (April 2, 1996). "MOVE siege returns to haunt city". Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  4. ^ a b John Anderson and Hilary Hevenor, Burning Down the House: MOVE and the tragedy of Philadelphia, W.W. Norton & Co., 1987, ISBN 0-393-02460-1
  5. ^ "Nose to Nose: Philadelphia confronts a cult". TIME magazine. August 14, 1978. Retrieved 2007-05-20. 
  6. ^ "Surrender Immediately". TIME magazine Nine members of the organization were sentenced to a minimum of thirty years for third degree murder. August 21, 1978. Retrieved 2007-05-20. 
  7. ^ Emilie Lounsberry (February 28, 2008). "MOVE members due for parole hearing". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2008-04-11. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  8. ^ Lounsberry, Emilie (June 5, 2008). "MOVE members denied parole". The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. pp. B06. 
  9. ^ Trippett, Frank (1985-05-27). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  10. ^ Account of 1985 incident from USA Today.
  11. ^ Stevens, William K. (14 May 1983). "Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia". New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2012. The confrontation became violent a few minutes before 6 A.M. when members of Move fired on officers, the police said. The first sporadic shots soon gave way to an incessant rattle of automatic and semi-automatic gunfire that echoed through the neighborhood. Thick clouds of smoke and tear gas coursed through narrow streets while bullets glanced off buildings and whizzed overhead. 
  12. ^ a b Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2009-02-15. The Move property on Osage Avenue had become notorious for its abundant litter of garbage and human waste and for its scurrying rats and dozens of dogs. Bullhorns blared forth obscene tirades and harangues at all times of day and night. MOVE members customarily kept their children out of both clothes and school. They physically assaulted some neighbors and threatened others. 
  13. ^ 25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes
  14. ^ a b Terry, Don (1996-06-25). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  15. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ "Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Manuscript Collection". Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  18. ^ G. Shaffer, C. Tiger, D. L. Root (2008). Compass American Guides Pennsylvania. 
  19. ^ Larry Eichel (May 8, 2005). "The MOVE Disaster: May 13, 1985". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  20. ^ October 23, 2003, Yanney, Monika Yant, "Talks of threats before slaying"
  21. ^ September 26, 2009, Nark, Jason, "Slaying of ex-MOVEr still roils feelings 7 years later"
  22. ^ September 12, 20012, "A clue hidden in a lost locker?"
  23. ^ Various posts.
  24. ^ Tim Phillips, "Thirty Years Since Unfair Trial of Journalist and Author Mumia Abu-Jamal", Activist Defense, June 22, 2012.
  25. ^ 'Birdie Africa,' child of MOVE, dies at 41", by Dave Davies,, Sept. 25, 2013 {}
  26. ^ http://www.onamove.comv[dead link]
  27. ^
  28. ^ "MOVE 25 years later". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-05-09. ;

Further reading[edit]

  • John Anderson and Hilary Hevenor, Burning Down the House: MOVE and the tragedy of Philadelphia, W.W. Norton & Co., 1987, ISBN 0-393-02460-1.
  • Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Discourse and Destruction: The City of Philadelphia versus MOVE (1994) University of Chicago Press
  • Johanna Saleh Dickson; Move: Sites of Trauma (Pamphlet Architecture 23) (2002) Princeton: Architectural Press
  • Toni Cade Bambara The Bombing of Osage Avenue Philadelphia: WHYY. DVD OCLC 95315483
  • Margot Harry, Attention Move! This is America (1987) Chicago: Banner Press, ISBN 0-916650-32-4
  • Maurantonio, Nicole (2014). "Archiving the Visual:The promises and pitfalls of digital newspapers". Media History 20 (1): 88–102. doi:10.1080/13688804.2013.870749. 
  • Michael Boyette & Randi Boyette, Let it Burn! (1989) Chicago: Contemporary Press, ISBN 0-8092-4543-4
  • Ramona Africa (Contr. Author). "This Country Must Change: Essays on the Necessity of Revolution in the USA" (Arissa Media Group, 2009) ISBN 978-0-9742884-7-5

External links[edit]

News media[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

Coordinates: 39°57′20″N 75°14′49″W / 39.955683°N 75.246868°W / 39.955683; -75.246868