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 the founder of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based, self-proclaimed black predominately black organization active in the early 1950s and still active. He was fatally shot during 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. At age nine he had been classified as "orthogenetically backward," now called an educable intellectual disability. When first tested, his IQ was measured at 84; his score fell to 79 when tested at age 15. Transferred to a special school where slow-learners could be taught simple trades, Leaphart compiled a spotty attendance record. Twice, at ages 11 and 13, his teacher rated his overall performance as unsatisfactory, though he 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 dictate notes for Glassey to write down for him. 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 the subsequent death of the group members by police.[4] During the raid, Africa was killed along with five other adults and five 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Craig R. McCoy. "Who was John Africa?". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  2. ^ a b Craig R. McCoy. "Who was John Africa?". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  3. ^ Johanna Saleh Dickson (2002). Move: Sites of Trauma (Pamphlet Architecture 23). Princeton Architectural Press. 
  4. ^ "25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  5. ^ Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2007-05-20. 
  6. ^ Letter from Mumia: Long Live John Africa!, July 4, 1998
  7. ^ "The Suspect - One Who Raised His Voice". The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 10, 1981. Retrieved 2007-10-18.