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

MOVE is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group founded by John Africa in 1972. The group lives communally and frequently engages in public demonstrations related to issues they deem important.


MOVE was originally called the Christian Movement for Life when it was founded in 1972. Its founder, John Africa, was functionally illiterate[1] so he dictated a document called The Guideline to Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. Africa and his contemporary, mostly African-American followers 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.[2] As John Africa himself had done, his devotees also changed their surnames to Africa to show reverence to it, which they regarded as their mother continent.[3][4][5]

John Africa's MOVE members lived in a commune in a house owned by Glassey in the Powelton Village section of West Philadelphia. They 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. MOVE activities drew close scrutiny from law enforcement authorities.[6][7]

1978 shoot-out[edit]

August 8, 1978, a deadly end came to an almost year-long standoff with police over a court order requiring MOVE to vacate their Powelton Village house.[8] When police attempted entry, shooting erupted and PPD officer James J. Ramp was killed by a shot to the back of the head. MOVE representatives claimed 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. Nine MOVE members were each sentenced to a maximum of 100 years in prison for third degree murder for Ramp's killing. Seven of the nine first became eligible for parole in the spring of 2008, but were denied it. Parole hearings now occur yearly.[9][10]

1985 bombing[edit]

In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors had 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,[11] the PPD attempted to clear the building and arrest the indicted MOVE members. This led to an armed standoff with police,[12] who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. MOVE members fired at the police, who returned fire with automatic weapons.[13]PPD Commissioner George Sambor then ordered that the compound be bombed.[14] From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, PPD Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop 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.[15]

The resulting explosions ignited a massive blaze that eventually destroyed approximately 65 nearby houses. The firefighters, who had earlier deluge-hosed the MOVE members in a failed attempt 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 because they had been given orders to let the fire burn. Officials feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters, as they had done before.[16][17][15][18] Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children) died in the resulting fire.[19] 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.[20]


Mayor W. Wilson Goode soon appointed an investigative commission called the PSIC (aka MOVE Commission), which 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."[21] No one from the city government was charged criminally.

In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgement to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury had found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.[19] Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself."[22][23]

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. Together they 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. Gilbride moved to Maple Shade, NJ.

On September 10, 2002, Gilbride testified in court that MOVE had threatened to kill him.[24] 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 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 that the murder had occurred, stating in 2009 that Gilbride "is out hiding somewhere". Tony Allen, an ex-MOVE member, maintains that MOVE murdered Gilbride.

In 2012, a newspaper 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 inside a locker for safekeeping, but the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office declined to allow the PPD to examine the contents of the locker following his murder.[25]

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. MOVE continues to advocate for Abu-Jamal's release as well as that of imprisoned MOVE members, whom the group regard as political prisoners.

Birdie Africa, also known as Michael Moses Ward, the only child survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing, accidentally drowned in 2013 in a hot tub on board the Carnival Dream while cruising in the Caribbean.[26]

In media[edit]


Despite its stated anti-technology stance, MOVE maintains a website encouraging visitors to support imprisoned MOVE members.[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]


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 has promoted the documentary on their website.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "John Africa". Google. Retrieved 2015-04-17. 
  2. ^ "An inauspicious beginning". Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Philadelphia, city officials ordered to pay $1.5 million in MOVE case; 1996-06-24; CNN
  5. ^ "25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes". Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  6. ^ "'Let The Fire Burn': A Philadelphia Community Forever Changed". NPR. Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  7. ^ "Survivor Remembers Bombing Of Philadelphia Headquarters". CBS Philly. Retrieved 2015-02-15. 
  8. ^ "Nose to Nose: Philadelphia confronts a cult". TIME magazine. August 14, 1978. Retrieved 2007-05-20. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Lounsberry, Emilie (June 5, 2008). "MOVE members denied parole". The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. pp. B06. 
  11. ^ Trippett, Frank (1985-05-27). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  12. ^ Account of 1985 incident from USA Today.
  13. ^ 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 MOVE members 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 throughout the neighborhood. Thick clouds of smoke and tear gas coursed through narrow streets while bullets glanced off buildings and whizzed overhead. 
  14. ^ "POLICE DROP BOMB ON RADICALS' HOME IN PHILADELPHIA". NY Times. Retrieved 2015-01-28. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ "POLICE DROP BOMB ON RADICALS' HOME IN PHILADELPHIA". NY Times. Retrieved 2015-03-26. 
  17. ^ Brian Jenkins (April 2, 1996). "MOVE siege returns to haunt city". Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  18. ^ 25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes
  19. ^ a b Terry, Don (1996-06-25). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  20. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  21. ^ "Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Manuscript Collection". Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  22. ^ G. Shaffer, C. Tiger, D. L. Root (2008). Compass American Guides Pennsylvania. 
  23. ^ Larry Eichel (May 8, 2005). "The MOVE Disaster: May 13, 1985". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  24. ^ October 23, 2003, Yanney, Monika Yant, "Talks of threats before slaying"
  25. ^ September 12, 20012, "A clue hidden in a lost locker?"
  26. ^ 'Birdie Africa,' child of MOVE, dies at 41", by Dave Davies,, Sept. 25, 2013 {}
  27. ^ http://www.onamove.comv[dead link]
  28. ^ "MOVE 25 years later". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-05-09. ;
  29. ^ "Let the Fire Burn". MOVE. Retrieved 2015-03-26. 

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