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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 (born Vincent Leaphart) in 1972. The group lives communally and frequently engages in public demonstrations against racism, police brutality, and other issues they consider important.

The group is particularly known for two major conflicts with the Philadelphia Police. In 1978, a standoff resulted in the death of one police officer, injuries to several other people and life sentences for 9 members. In 1985, another standoff was ended when the police dropped a bomb on their compound. This resulted in the death of 11 MOVE members, including the leader John Africa and 5 children, the destruction of 65 houses and widespread news coverage. [1]


MOVE was originally called the Christian Movement for Life when it was founded in 1972. Its founder, John Africa, was functionally illiterate[2] 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.[3] As John Africa himself had done, his devotees changed their surnames to Africa to show reverence to what they regarded as their mother continent.[4][5][6]

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 that they opposed, 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.[7][8]

1978 shoot-out[edit]

On 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.[9] When police attempted entry, shooting erupted and Philadelphia Police Department 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.

The MOVE 9[edit]

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.[10][11]

In 1998, at age 47, Merle Africa died in prison. [12] In 2015, at age 59, Phil Africa died in prison. [13] The remaining 7 are Chuck Africa, Michael Africa, Debbie Africa, Janet Africa, Janine Africa, Delbert Africa, and Eddie Africa.

1985 bombing[edit]

In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. After the move, 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. After the complaints as well as indictments of numerous[quantify] MOVE members for crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats,[1] both mayor W. Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor had begun characterizing MOVE as a terrorist organization.[14]

On May 13, 1985, the police, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force with arrest warrants and attempted to clear the building and arrest the indicted MOVE members.[14] This led to an armed standoff with police,[15] who lobbed tear gas canisters at the building. MOVE members fired at the police, who returned fire with automatic weapons.[16] Commissioner Sambor then ordered that the compound be bombed.[16] From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two one-pound bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices"[14]) made of FBI-supplied water gel explosive, a dynamite substitute, targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.[1]

The resulting explosions ignited a fire 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 as the fire caused by the bomb engulfed the first house and spread to others, having been given orders to let the fire burn. Despite the earlier drenching of the building by firefighters, officials said that they feared that MOVE would shoot at the firefighters.[6][16][1][17] Eleven people (John Africa, five other adults and five children aged 7 to 13) died in the resulting fire and more than 250 people were left homeless.[18] 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.[19]


Mayor Goode soon appointed an investigative commission called the PSIC (aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Police commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985, reporting that he felt that he was being made a "surrogate" by Goode.[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, mayor Goode made a formal public apology.[22] 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.[18] Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself."[23][24]

2002 murder of John Gilbride[edit]

After the death of John Africa, his widow, Alberta, married John Gilbride, Jr., a white man 20 years younger than her. 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.[25] On September 27, shortly after midnight and prior to Gilbride's first visitation date with Zackary, an unknown assailant shot and killed 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 Philadelphia Police Department to examine the contents of the locker following his murder.[26]

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.[27]

In media[edit]


Despite its stated anti-technology stance, MOVE maintains a website encouraging visitors to support imprisoned MOVE members.[28] 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.[29]


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. Australian band Eurogliders were touring the US in 1985 and wrote a song about the events called "City Of Soul" which reached no. 19 on the Australian charts in 1985, they re-recorded the song recently and included it on their 2015 CD Don't Eat the Daisies.


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.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Trippett, Frank (1985-05-27). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  2. ^ "John Africa". Google. Retrieved 2015-04-17. 
  3. ^ "An inauspicious beginning". Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  4. ^ 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. ^ "CNN - Philadelphia, city officials ordered to pay $1.5 million in MOVE case - June 24, 1996". 
  6. ^ a b 25 Years Ago: Philadelphia Police Bombs MOVE Headquarters Killing 11, Destroying 65 Homes Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  7. ^ "'Let The Fire Burn': A Philadelphia Community Forever Changed". NPR. Retrieved 2015-02-21. 
  8. ^ "Survivor Remembers Bombing Of Philadelphia Headquarters". CBS Philly. Retrieved 2015-02-15. 
  9. ^ "Nose to Nose: Philadelphia confronts a cult". TIME magazine. August 14, 1978. Retrieved 2007-05-20. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ Lounsberry, Emilie (June 5, 2008). "MOVE members denied parole". The Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper. pp. B06. 
  12. ^ Move Death Merle Africa's Demise Labeled `Suspicious'
  13. ^ Phil Africa, of Black-Liberation Group Move, Long in Prison, Dies at 59
  14. ^ a b c Shapiro, Michael J (June 17, 2010). The Time of the City: Politics, Philosophy and Genre. Routledge. p. 108. ISBN 9781136977879. 
  15. ^ Account of 1985 incident from USA Today.
  16. ^ a b c Stevens, William K. (14 May 1985). "Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia". New York Times. Retrieved 31 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Brian Jenkins (April 2, 1996). "MOVE siege returns to haunt city". Retrieved 2008-08-01. 
  18. ^ a b Terry, Don (1996-06-25). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2010. 
  19. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Retrieved 2013-05-14. 
  20. ^ I Was Expendable, Sambor Learned After Move Fiasco
  21. ^ "Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Manuscript Collection". Retrieved 2008-04-12. 
  22. ^ Goode Offers His Apology For Move
  23. ^ G. Shaffer, C. Tiger, D. L. Root (2008). Compass American Guides Pennsylvania. 
  24. ^ Larry Eichel (May 8, 2005). "The MOVE Disaster: May 13, 1985". Philadelphia Inquirer. 
  25. ^ October 23, 2003, Yanney, Monika Yant, "Talks of threats before slaying"
  26. ^ September 12, 20012, "A clue hidden in a lost locker?"
  27. ^ Birdie Africa, child of MOVE, dies at 41 Davies, Dave Davies,, Sept. 25, 2013.
  28. ^ On A Move - Website of the MOVE organization Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  29. ^ "MOVE 25 years later". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-05-09. ;
  30. ^ "Let the Fire Burn". MOVE. Retrieved 2015-03-26. 

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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