John Africa

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
John Africa
Vincent Leaphart

(1931-07-26)July 26, 1931
DiedMay 13, 1985(1985-05-13) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Known forFounder of MOVE

John Africa (July 26, 1931 – May 13, 1985), born Vincent Leaphart, was the founder of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based, self-proclaimed predominantly black organization active from the early 1970s and still active. He was killed during an armed standoff in 1985 with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Early life, work, and death[edit]

He was born Vincent Leaphart on July 26, 1931, in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia. His mother died when he was young, and he blamed the hospital where she was being treated for her death.

He was drafted as Leaphart to serve in the US Army during the Korean War.[1] From this period he derived an early hatred of the "American class system" and its ties to race. He adopted the name "John Africa" because he believed Africa to be the place where life originated.[2]

Upon returning to Philadelphia, Africa moved to a cooperative housing community called Community Housing Inc. It was a polyglot neighborhood that attempted to rebel against capitalist regimes via sharing resources and engaging in socialist ideology.[2]

Africa later met Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. Africa began to dictate notes for Glassey to write down for him. Glassey's notes were eventually the basis of a document called "The Guidelines".[3] With Glassey, Africa moved his new organization to a house on Pearl Street in West Philadelphia. After parting ways with Glassey due to differing ideology, Africa made "The Guidelines" the primary source for his teachings and the principles of MOVE. The Guidelines articulated teachings such as strict vegetarianism and the inherent value of all living things.[2]

MOVE accepted members regardless of their past and taught lessons on corruption, racism, and the need for individuality in an increasingly technological society.[2] Further, the organization protested animal cruelty in zoos, the education system, and police brutality. Consequently, the police engaged in heavy surveillance around members of MOVE. Let the Fire Burn, a documentary released in 2013, exposes this reality when a member of the Philadelphia police reveals that between 1972 and 1978, 193 arrests of MOVE members and 93 subsequent court cases occurred.[4]

On August 8, 1978, the Philadelphia police attempted to evict the MOVE organization from their home on Pearl Street. Neither a formal notice nor a peaceful attempt were made before armed police surrounded the property, working with the false pretense that the organization housed automatic weapons. A standoff occurred, resulting in the death of one police officer and several injuries. Evidence suggests the officer was killed by friendly fire and yet nine MOVE members were arrested and the organization was forced from their home on Pearl Street. The home was immediately demolished and the MOVE 9 remain in prison today.[5]

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.

After MOVE and John Africa moved to a new location on Osage Ave. in West Philadelphia, law enforcement officials obtained permission from the Mayor's office to evict members of MOVE due to neighborhood complaints of obscenity. On May 13, 1985, they attempted to evict MOVE. The eviction developed into an armed standoff with MOVE.[6]

During the raid, 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" and consequently members were not able to escape the home. There is a debate as to why this is that case; members of MOVE claim they were met by open fire outside the house. Participating officers claim this is incorrect.[7]

The explosion, fire, and shootout killed most MOVE members, including Africa, five other adults and five children. Only Ramona and Birdie Africa survived, but both were severely burned. Birdie was released but Ramona was convicted and sentenced to serve a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison. She served the full time.[8]


John Africa has been classified as an anarcho-primitivist. His teachings emphasized the importance of all life and the ways in which capitalism, war, racism, and other social forces serve as direct opposition to this reality. He encouraged strict vegetarianism, raw food, and communal living. According to MOVE's website, “John Africa despises prejudice, despised the man-made standard of inferior-superior,” and “John Africa teach MOVE people to believe in and love life, to understand the absolute necessity of life and protect all life equally, meaning all living beings (people, animals, water, soil, air)”.[9]

Influence on others[edit]

Philadelphia activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has followed the teachings of John Africa,[10] and was a supporter of the MOVE organization.[11] During Abu-Jamal's 1982 murder trial for the death of a police officer, Abu-Jamal made repeated requests to be represented by Africa. The judge denied these requests as Africa was not a licensed attorney.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Craig R. McCoy. "Who was John Africa?". Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  2. ^ a b c d 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. ISBN 9781568984001.
  4. ^ Osder, J. (Director). (2014). Let the Fire Burn [Video file]. United States: The George Washington University.
  5. ^ Africa, Ramona. "25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes". DemocracyNow!. DemocracyNow!. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  6. ^ "25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes". Retrieved 2015-05-13.
  7. ^ Africa, Ramona. "25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes". DemocracyNow!. DemocracyNow!. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  8. ^ Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  9. ^ "John Africa". MOVE. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  10. ^ Letter from Mumia: Long Live John Africa! Archived 2007-10-06 at the Wayback Machine, July 4, 1998
  11. ^ "The Suspect - One Who Raised His Voice". The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 10, 1981. Archived from the original on July 2, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-18. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)