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1985 MOVE bombing

Coordinates: 39°57′21″N 75°14′49″W / 39.9557°N 75.2469°W / 39.9557; -75.2469
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

1985 MOVE bombing
Part of Black Power movement and political violence in the United States during the Cold War
See caption
A crowd watching a row of buildings go up in flames after the bombing
Location6221 Osage Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Coordinates39°57′21″N 75°14′49″W / 39.9557°N 75.2469°W / 39.9557; -75.2469
DateMay 13, 1985; 39 years ago (1985-05-13)
TargetMOVE members
Attack type
Aerial bombing with C4, police brutality[1]
OutcomePhiladelphia Police Department found liable in federal court for excessive force and unreasonable search and seizure
Victims11 killed,[a] 250 people made homeless
PerpetratorsPhiladelphia Police Department
LitigationCity of Philadelphia ordered to pay $1.5 million in 1996 to a MOVE bombing survivor and the families of people killed, $12.83 million awarded in 2005 to residents who were made homeless.

The 1985 MOVE bombing, locally known by its date, May 13, 1985,[2] was the destruction of residential homes in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, by the Philadelphia Police Department during a standoff with MOVE, a black liberation organization. Philadelphia police dropped two explosive devices from a helicopter onto the roof of a house occupied by MOVE. The Philadelphia Police Department allowed the resulting fire to burn out of control, destroying 61 previously evacuated neighboring homes over two city blocks and leaving 250 people homeless.[3] Six adults and five children were killed in the attack,[4] with one adult and one child surviving. A lawsuit in federal court found that the city used excessive force and violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.[5]


In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors complained to the city for years about trash around their building, confrontations with neighbors, and bullhorn announcements of political messages by MOVE members.[6][7] The bullhorn was broken and inoperable for the three weeks prior to the police bombing of the row house.[7]

The police obtained arrest warrants in 1985 charging four MOVE occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terroristic threats.[8] Mayor Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor classified MOVE as a terrorist organization.[9] Police evacuated residents of the area from the neighborhood prior to their action. Residents were told that they would be able to return to their homes after a 24-hour period.[10]


On Monday, May 13, 1985, nearly 500 police officers, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force and attempted to clear the building and execute the arrest warrants.[10][9] Water and electricity were shut off in order to force MOVE members out of the house. At 5:35 a.m., Sambor read a long speech addressed to MOVE members that started with, "Attention MOVE: This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States." They were given 15 minutes to come out. When the MOVE members did not respond, the police decided to forcibly remove the people who remained in the house.[10][6] Inside the building were seven adults and six children.[11]

There was an armed standoff with police,[12] who threw tear gas canisters at the building. The MOVE members fired at them, and a gunfight with semi-automatic and automatic firearms ensued for 90 minutes.[13] One officer was hit in the back in his flak jacket but was not seriously hurt.[6] Police used more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition. At 2 p.m., Sambor ordered that the compound be bombed.[13]

From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two 1.5-pound (0.75 kg) bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices"[9]) made of Tovex, a dynamite substitute, combined with two pounds of FBI-supplied C-4,[14] targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.[6] The bombs exploded after 45 seconds, igniting the fuel of a gasoline-powered generator and setting the house on fire, which was left to burn. Officials later stated that this was to let the fire burn through the roof and destroy the "bunker", so police could then drop tear gas into the house and flush out the occupants. Thirty minutes later, firefighters moved in to control the fire but there was gunfire and the firefighters and police were ordered back as the fire spread to neighboring houses down the street. The only two MOVE survivors, Birdie Africa, who was 13 at the time, and Ramona Africa, both escaped the house. Police initially said that two men had also run out of the house at the same time and fired at them and that police had returned fire.[6] Ramona Africa said that police fired at those trying to escape. Police said that MOVE members moved in and out of the house shooting at the police.[15] The fire department later declared the fire under control at 11:47 p.m.[6]

The fire killed 11 of the people in the house, six adults and five children: John Africa, Rhonda Africa, Theresa Africa, Frank Africa, Conrad Africa, Tree Africa, Delisha Africa, Netta Africa, Little Phil Africa, Tomaso Africa, and Raymond Africa. 61 neighboring homes were destroyed by the fire, leaving 250 people homeless.[16]


Mayor Goode appointed an investigative commission called the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (PSIC, aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985; in a speech the following year, he said that he was made a "surrogate" by Goode.[17]

In 1986, Philadelphia artists Ellen Powell Tiberino and her artist-husband Joseph created a seven-foot relief sculpture depicting their interpretation of the bombing. Titled “The MOVE Confrontation,” it depicted people engulfed in flames, Mayor W. Wilson Goode, a Death mask and horrified spectators. It created controversy in the city and produced headlines across the country.[18] In 1985, Philadelphia was given the nickname "The City that Bombed Itself".[19][20]

The MOVE Commission 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] Following the release of the report, Goode made a formal public apology.[22] No one from the city government was criminally charged in the attack. The only surviving adult MOVE member, Ramona Africa, refused to testify in court and was charged and convicted on charges of riot and conspiracy; she served seven years in prison.[23]

A lawsuit appealing a judgment against the police and public officials was filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on November 3, 1994 Africa v. City of Philadelphia (In re City of Philadelphia Litig.), 49 F.3d 945 (1995) and was decided on March 6, 1995. The court decided that the plaintiffs did not have a Fourth Amendment claim against the city because there was no seizure when the defendants dropped explosives in the plaintiffs buildings, city officials and police officers had qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, but the city did not have qualified immunity from liability despite its officials being exempt.[24]

In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgment 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. Ramona was awarded $500,000 for the pain, suffering and physical harm suffered in the fire.[5]

In 2005, federal judge Clarence Charles Newcomer presided over a civil trial brought by residents seeking damages for having been displaced by the widespread destruction following the 1985 police bombing of MOVE. A jury awarded them a $12.83 million verdict against the City of Philadelphia.[25]

In November 2020, the Philadelphia City Council approved a resolution to formally apologize for the MOVE bombing. The measure also established an annual day of "observation, reflection and recommitment" on May 13, the anniversary of the bombing.[26][27]

Block redevelopment[edit]

By late fall 1985, the city government and a private developer had begun to rebuild the residential block that the police department damaged with the MOVE bombing. However, the homeowners who moved back in found the construction to be of poor quality,[28] and in 1995 the Ed Rendell administration summoned the United States Army Corps of Engineers to inspect the buildings; they found the 61 buildings were not up to code. The city government attempted further rehabilitations before giving up by 2005 and offering $150,000 to residents to leave; over two-thirds accepted the deal, leaving the houses abandoned. In 2016, the city government committed to rebuilding the block again;[29] in January 2023, a member of MOVE and great-nephew of John Africa, Mike Africa Jr., bought the house at 6221 Osage Avenue, with plans to turn part of it into a memorial. [30][31]

Use of human remains from the bombings[edit]

Since the bombing, the bones of two children, 14-year-old Tree (Katricia Dotson) and 12-year-old Delisha Orr, were kept at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In 2021, Billy Penn revealed that according to the museum, the remains had been transferred to researchers at Princeton University, though the university was unaware of their exact whereabouts. The remains had been used by Janet Monge, an adjunct professor in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor in the same subject at Princeton University, in videos for an online forensics course named “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” as case studies.[32] Present-day MOVE members were shocked to learn this, with Mike Africa Jr. stating "They were bombed, and burned alive ... and now you wanna keep their bones."[33]

The city stated the remains had gone unclaimed by the families after the bombing,[34] but in May 2021, the city of Philadelphia's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, resigned under pressure after it was revealed that in 2017 he ordered the cremation and disposal of victims' remains without either identifying them or contacting members of the family.[35] A day after Farley's resignation, staff at the Medical Examiner's Office found the box labeled "MOVE" in a refrigerated area of their office containing the un-cremated remains. As of 2021, Mike Africa Jr. stated that the Africa family have not yet decided what to do with the remains.[36] The sisters' remains from the Medical Examiner's Office were released to their surviving brother in August 2022.[37]

Although the bones used by Monge in the "Real Bones" course were given to the Africa family in 2021, accounts differ regarding how many remains were at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and whether all bones from MOVE bombing victims at the museum were returned in 2021. A legal team hired by the University of Pennsylvania stated that the bones of Delisha Orr were never at the Penn Museum.[38] However, an investigation by the City of Philadelphia disagreed, and stated that there was evidence that remains of Delisha Orr were at the Penn Museum.[39] Nine forensic anthropologists certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology disagreed with the claims published by Penn's legal team and agreed with those of the City of Philadelphia.[40] The City of Philadelphia also questioned whether all the remains of Katricia Dotson which were at the Penn Museum were given to MOVE in 2021.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Including five children.


  1. ^ Stein, Melissa N. (October 1, 2020). ""The Blood of Innocent Children": Race, Respectability, and "True" Victimhood in the 1985 MOVE Police Bombing". Souls. 22 (2–4): 160–184. doi:10.1080/10999949.2021.2003630. ISSN 1099-9949. S2CID 248779547.
  2. ^ Demby, Gene (May 13, 2015). "I'm From Philly. 30 Years Later, I'm Still Trying To Make Sense Of The MOVE Bombing". NPR. National Public Radio, Inc. Retrieved May 13, 2023.
  3. ^ Hall, Gray (May 13, 2020). "11 Philadelphia City Council members issue apology on 35th anniversary of MOVE bombing". 6abc Philadelphia. Archived from the original on May 7, 2021. Retrieved May 7, 2021.
  4. ^ Cleaver, Kathleen Neal (1993). "Philadelphia fire". Peace Review. 5 (4): 467–474. doi:10.1080/10402659308425758. ISSN 1040-2659.
  5. ^ a b Terry, Don (June 25, 1996). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 24, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Archived from the original on March 15, 2017. Retrieved February 15, 2009. 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.
  7. ^ a b Abu-Jamal, Mumia; Bin Wahad, Dhoruba; Shakur, Assata (1993). Still Black, Still Strong. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e). p. 128. ISBN 9780936756745.
  8. ^ Trippett, Frank (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME. Archived from the original on March 15, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Shapiro, Michael J (June 17, 2010). The Time of the City: Politics, Philosophy and Genre. Routledge. p. 108. ISBN 9781136977879.
  10. ^ a b c Demby, Gene (May 13, 2015). "I'm from Philly 30 years later I'm still trying to make sense of the MOVE bombing". NPR. Archived from the original on May 24, 2021. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  11. ^ Fagone, Jason (February 27, 2014). "Birdie Africa: The Lost Boy". City Live. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  12. ^ Account of 1985 incident from USA Today Archived July 2, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ a b Stevens, William K. (May 14, 1985). "Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 9, 2020. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  14. ^ Evans, Richard Kent (June 1, 2020). MOVE: An American Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-19-005878-4.
  15. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Archived from the original on June 20, 2013. Retrieved May 14, 2013.
  16. ^ "On the anniversary of MOVE bombing, fresh pain and calls for accountability on Osage Avenue". Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  17. ^ Call, SCOTT J. HIGHAM, The Morning (February 27, 1986). "I WAS EXPENDABLE, SAMBOR LEARNED AFTER MOVE FIASCO". mcall.com. Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved August 8, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ "Artwork Showing Fiery Deaths Causes Controversy at Temple University". Associated Press. February 18, 1986. Retrieved January 2, 2023.
  19. ^ G. Shaffer; C. Tiger; D. L. Root (2008). Compass American Guides Pennsylvania.
  20. ^ Larry Eichel (May 8, 2005). "The MOVE Disaster: May 13, 1985". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 14, 2020. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  21. ^ "Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Manuscript Collection". Archived from the original on January 11, 2009. Retrieved April 12, 2008.
  22. ^ Stevens, William K. (March 10, 1986). "Philadelphia Mayor Apologizes for Confrontation With Radicals". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Retrieved August 26, 2022.
  23. ^ Odom, Maida. "Ramona Africa Given Jail Term For Siege Role". philly.com. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  24. ^ "FindLaw's United States Third Circuit case and opinions". Findlaw. June 3, 2020. Retrieved December 25, 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  25. ^ Douglas Martin (August 28, 2005). "CLARENCE NEWCOMER, 82, LONGTIME FEDERAL JUDGE," Archived June 3, 2020, at the Wayback Machine South Florida Sun Sentinel.
  26. ^ Pilkington, Ed (November 13, 2020). "Philadelphia city council apologises for deadly 1985 Move bombing". the Guardian. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  27. ^ Ismay, John (November 13, 2020). "35 Years After MOVE Bombing That Killed 11, Philadelphia Apologizes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 14, 2020. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  28. ^ Demby, Gene (May 13, 2015). "What It's Like Living On The Block That Philadelphia Bombed 30 Years Ago". NPR. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  29. ^ Vargas, Claudia (November 25, 2016). "On Osage Avenue, rebuilt homes to rise again from MOVE's ashes". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  30. ^ Ileto, Christie (May 11, 2023). "MOVE Bombing: Africa family member buys home on Osage Avenue in Philadelphia for first time in 38 years". 6abc.com. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  31. ^ Pilkington, Ed (May 12, 2023). "He was six when police attacked Philadelphia's Black liberation group – now he's making a memorial". the Guardian. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  32. ^ "Bones of Black children killed in police bombing used in Ivy League anthropology course". the Guardian. April 23, 2021. Archived from the original on April 23, 2021. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  33. ^ "Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades". Billy Penn. April 21, 2021. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved May 24, 2021.
  34. ^ Kassutto, Maya (April 21, 2021). "Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades". Billy Penn. Archived from the original on April 21, 2021. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  35. ^ Goodin-Smith, Laura McCrystal, Aubrey Whelan and Oona (May 15, 2021). "Philly health commissioner resigns over cremating MOVE victims without telling family; Kenney apologizes". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on May 13, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  36. ^ Levenson, Michael (May 15, 2021). "Discovery of Bones From MOVE Bombing Jolts Philadelphia Once Again". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 15, 2021. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  37. ^ Matt, Petrillo (August 3, 2022). "37 years later, brother of MOVE bombing victims plans proper burial after finally receiving sisters' remains". CBS News. Retrieved August 23, 2022.
  38. ^ DiSanto, Jill (August 25, 2021). "Report on the handling of human remains from the 1985 MOVE tragedy". Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  39. ^ a b Heim, Robert C.; Tulante, Sozi P.; Graff, Carla G.; Tubbs, Stephanie A.; Ekhator, Chukwufumnanya I.; Hussain, Tooba N.; Bradford-Grey, Keir; Remondino, Brian G. "Final Report of the Independent Investigation into the City of Philadelphia's Possession of Human Remains of Victims of the 1985 Bombing of the MOVE Organization" (PDF). www.phila.gov. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  40. ^ Dickey, Bronwen (October 19, 2022). "She Was Killed by the Police. Why Were Her Bones in a Museum?". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2022.

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