Twenty-nine years ago this week, Philadelphia’s Black mayor ordered the city to bomb its own citizens. MOVE, a black liberation group in Philadelphia, had had other confrontations with Philadelphia police, but this one ended in tragedy for a whole neighborhood.

MOVE was launched in 1972 by John Africa, a dreadlocked messiah figure whose followers also locked their hair and took “Africa” as a last name. When the group moved to the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia, they annoyed and harassed their neighbors with late-night bullhorn rants and the condition of their home, which included a bunker built on the roof.

Though MOVE advocated a back to nature philosophy and eschewed materialism and technology, their neighbors in the middle-class area of the city simply wanted peace and quiet and asked city officials to evict them.

On May 13, 1985, police raided the group’s home after several members were indicted for various crimes. The raid led to an armed standoff that came to a violent end when a state police helicopter dropped two bombs on the house, killing John Africa and ten others, including five children. Ramona Africa and 9-year-old Birdie Africa were the only survivors of the ensuing fire that destroyed 61 homes; none of them affiliated with Move.

Firefighters delayed fighting the blaze fearing the armed group, who exchanged fire with police before the bomb was dropped, would target them. The MOVE bombing came to represent the worst aspects of racism as a bomb was dropped on a Black neighborhood with little thought of the consequences.

The city eventually paid a million-dollar settlement to MOVE survivors. In a sad postscript to the tragedy, the city rebuilt homes destroyed in the bombing only to fall victim to a shoddy contractor. Most of the homeowners on the destroyed blocks ultimately took the city’s offer to sell and left the block.

Birdie Africa, who after surviving the bombing was known as Michael Moses, died last year at age 41 in an accidental drowning in a hot tub on a cruise ship.

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2 thoughts on “Little Known Black History Fact: MOVE Bombing

  1. It’s ironic today with this bloody history of this event how it seems a vast % of black people have a very short memory and seem to think that collectively as a group there is no need for Black Nationalism and real serious liberation type freedom groups beyond civil rights activity.
    It appears today that many seem to think we have a black president,all these rich black sports stars.Beyonce sister fighting her husband in an elevator that we have finally overcame now in the 21st century.
    The reality is we have black on black genocide going on chicago right now fueled by negative destructive rap music,negative images of black males being sent back and forth to these updated,private own plantation prisons.
    An event like the MOVE bombing should never be forgotten and it ‘s just as bad if not worse than the Tulsa Oklahoma race riot

    • Tony on said:

      MOVE had nothing to do with Black Nationalism. Black Nationalism is the support of Black institutions and businesses. MOVE’s ideas and practices had no place in an urban environment. You cannot throw your garbage on the lawn in an urban environment. You cannot throw your feces on the lawn in an urban environment. You MUST follow certain societal rules when you live in an urban environment and MOVE didn’t do that. Remember, to the residents of Philadelphia, this wasn’t the first time there was a run in with MOVE.

      And please don’t blame black on black genocide in Chicago on outside influences. Making excuses blinds you to what the real reason is for this genocide. We’ve had at least 3 generations raised with the idea that there is no consequence for their actions.

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