Racist Government Bombed Black Philadelphia
The following article is reprinted in slightly edited form from Workers Vanguard No. 959 (21 May).
May 13 marks the 25th anniversary of the 1985 MOVE massacre. Eleven people, five children, were burned alive after police, acting on orders from black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode and in collusion with the Feds, dropped a powerful incendiary bomb on the Osage Avenue home of the largely black MOVE commune in West Philadelphia. The firebombing followed a 12-hour siege during which the cops unloaded over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house. Firefighters on site were held back, and cops shot at anyone who tried to escape the burning building. The inferno spread, destroying 61 houses and leaving hundreds homeless in the black neighborhood.
Then-president Ronald Reagan, the FBI, the Philly cops and Wilson Goode were all responsible for this hideous crime, a stark example of the racist terror that black people are subject to in capitalist America. None of the perpetrators ever faced charges, while Ramona Africa, the sole adult survivor, served every day of her seven-year prison sentence. Immediately after the massacre, and ever since, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee, a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the SL, have sought to sear this racist atrocity into the memory of the working class.
In July 1985, the SL held a public forum in New York City to honor the MOVE martyrs, at which family members and supporters spoke. We wrote in protest that the mass murder carried the bloody signature of the Reagan years and was intended “to send a message to black America and ‘radicals’ of every stripe. ‘Anti-terrorism’ means massive government terror against anyone who is out of step in Reagan’s America” (Workers Vanguard No. 379, 17 May 1985). Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the onslaught against black people, synonymous with Reagan reaction, has continued unabated to this day.
From the moment that MOVE surfaced in the early 1970s in the racist hellhole of Philadelphia, denouncing “the system” and defending the right to armed self-defense, this back-to-nature group was subjected to police harassment, beatings and hundreds of arrests. On 8 August 1978, 600 cops unleashed a barrage of gunfire as they stormed MOVE’s Powelton Village compound. When MOVE members emerged from their home, the police dragged, kicked and stomped Delbert Africa nearly to death. Nine MOVE members were framed up and sentenced in 1981 to 30-100 years on charges of killing a cop who died in the police crossfire at Powelton Village—even though the judge stated that he didn’t have the “faintest idea” who killed the cop. Merle Africa died in her prison cell in 1998. The rest of the MOVE 9 are still in Pennsylvania’s dungeons.
In an expression of solidarity with those imprisoned for standing up to racist capitalist repression, the PDC provided monthly stipends for Ramona Africa during her imprisonment as it has also done for the MOVE 9 and death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who became a MOVE supporter while reporting on the MOVE 9 trial.
Mumia, an innocent man framed up on false charges of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, was sentenced to death in 1982 for his political views. His case is what the death penalty is all about—a legacy of chattel slavery, the lynch rope made legal. A former Black Panther leader as a teenager in the 1960s, Mumia became a prominent radical radio journalist known as “The Voice of the Voiceless” who reported on the racist Philly cops and courts. It was during the sham trial of the MOVE 9 that Mumia became sympathetic to the MOVE organization.
To avenge the MOVE martyrs, the working class must fight to smash this capitalist system, whose rulers inflict a special oppression on black people as a means to divide and attack the entire working class. We will not forget the MOVE massacre! Free the MOVE members, Mumia and all class-war prisoners! For black liberation through socialist revolution!
Tag: Move 9
Move 9 member Delbert Orr Africa freed after 42 years in prison
One of the great open wounds of the 1970s black liberation struggle came closer to being healed on Saturday with the release of Delbert Orr Africa, a member of the Move 9 group who has been imprisoned for 42 years for a crime he says he did not commit.
Del Africa walked free from Pennsylvania’s state correctional institution, Dallas, on Saturday morning after a long struggle to convince parole authorities to release him. He is the eighth of the nine Move members – five men and four women – to be released or to have died while in prison.
Only one of the nine, Chuck Africa, remains behind bars.
The nine were arrested and sentenced to 30 years to life following a dramatic police siege of their communal home in Philadelphia which culminated with a shootout on 8 August 1978. In the maelstrom a police officer, James Ramp, was killed with a single bullet. Move has always denied that any of its members were responsible.
Brad Thomson, a member of Del Africa’s legal team, said the decision to release him on parole “affirms what the movement to free the Move 9 has been arguing for decades: that their continued incarceration is unjust”.
Thomson added: “With the release of Delbert, that leaves Charles ‘Chuck’ Africa as the last member of the Move 9 to still be in prison. Chuck went before the parole board last month and we are optimistic that he will be released in the very near future.”
The Guardian told the story of Del Africa and his fellow Move 9 member Janine Phillips Africa in a series of articles on black radicals who have been incarcerated for decades as a result of their activities in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Move was formed in Philadelphia as a group of black radicals committed not only to the liberation from racial oppression, in tune with the Black Panther party of the time, but also to environmentalist and back-to-nature ideals. They lived, as they still do today, as a family, taking “Africa” as their shared last name.
Over two years, from prison, Del Africa related his story to the Guardian in emails and a three-hour interview. He recounted how he became engaged in the black struggle when a girlfriend introduced him to the Black Panther Party in Chicago in the late 1960s.
Later, he moved to Philadelphia and drifted into Move. He was inside the Move house in Powelton Village in the summer of 1978 when it came under police siege.
The city, under a notoriously brutal mayor, Frank Rizzo, wanted to evict the group on the grounds that they were a nuisance and an affront to public decency.
When the shootout broke out, police went in with guns and water cannon. Del Africa provided one of the astonishing images of the black liberation struggle when he emerged from the house with his arms outstretched, as if on the cross, while a police officer jabbed a rifle in his neck.
Video footage shows two officers throwing him to the ground and kicking him on the head, which bounces between them like a ball.
Africa described the event: “A cop hit me with his helmet. Smashed my eye. Another cop swung his shotgun and broke my jaw. I went down, and after that I don’t remember anything till I came to and a dude was dragging me by my hair and cops started kicking me in the head.”
For six years of his incarceration, Delbert Africa was put in an infamous solitary confinement wing known by prisoners as the “dungeon”. His isolation was imposed because he refused to have his dreadlocks cut – part of the Move philosophy.
He recalled in Guardian interviews how he survived in solitary confinement by developing a black history quiz with other prisoners, which they would play by tapping out messages. Other prisoners joined the game, which asked questions like: when was the Brown v Board of Education ruling in the US supreme court? What year was the Black Panther party founded? Who was Dred Scott? For what is John Brown remembered?
In 1985, when Del Africa had been in prison for almost seven years, tragedy struck again. He learned that Philadelphia police had conducted a second siege on the Move communal home, which was now located in Osage Avenue.
On this occasion, the police dropped an incendiary bomb from a helicopter. The bomb ignited a fire that spread through the overwhelmingly African American neighborhood.
City leaders allowed the fire to rage. Sixty-one houses were razed and 11 people in the Move house were killed, including five children. One of the survivors, Ramona Africa, was badly burned. She was duly put on trial and sentenced to seven years in prison.
One of the children who died was Delisha, Del Africa’s 13-year-old daughter. He told the Guardian how he responded to the news that she had been killed in an inferno: “I just cried. I wanted to strike out. I wanted to wreak as much havoc as I could until they put me down. That anger, it brought such a feeling of helplessness. Like, dang! What to do now? Dark times.”
With the 35th anniversary of the bombing approaching in May, Del Africa is free. At the end of the Guardian’s interview with him, he described how he had managed to endure four decades behind bars.
“I keep staying on the move. Stagnation is the worst thing. I’m on the move, and I hope you are too,” he said.
“We’ve suffered the worst that this system can throw at us – decades of imprisonment, loss of loved ones. So we know we are strong. For all of that, we are still here and I look on that with pride.”
Update: Help Ramona Fight For Her life
Interview with Janine and Janet Africa of the MOVE 9
Media Release: Janet and Janine Africa are paroled after forty years of incarceration!!!
The Abolitionist Law Center and the People’s Law Office are proud to share that Janet Holloway Africa and Janine Phillips Africa of the MOVE 9 have been released from state custody after more than forty years of incarceration. Earlier this morning, the MOVE sisters were finally released on parole from SCI Cambridge Springs and are now with family and friends. The sisters have been battling for their freedom after being consistently denied parole for a decade despite an impeccable disciplinary record and extensive record of mentorship and community service during their time in prison.
Following their 2018 parole denial, attorneys from Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office filed petitions for habeas corpus seeking their release from prison. The habeas petitions challenged their parole denials on the grounds that the decisions were arbitrary and lacking in any evidence that janet or Janine presented a risk to public safety. Under pressure from litigation and with a court date for May 28 looming, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (board) granted Janet and Janine parole on May 14, 2019, just one day after the anniversary of the notorious May 13, 1985 bombing of the MOVE home.
“The release of Janet and Janine is a victory not only for them and their loved ones, but also for the MOVE Organization and the movement to free all political prisoners,” said attorney Brad Thomson of People’s Law Office. “Janet and Janine were excellent candidates for parole. They have been described by DOC staff as model prisoners and neither of them has had a single disciplinary incident in over twenty years. While in prison, they have participated in community fundraisers, and social programs, including training service dogs. They are remarkable women to deserve to be free.”
Like Debbie and Mike Africa, who were released last year, Janet and Janine are now able to experience holding their loved ones outside of prison walls for the first time in decades. The release of Janet and Janine after forty years is the culmination of the MOVE organization, public support, legal action, and policy changes.
Three other members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated (Chuck, Delbert and Eddie Africa), while two others (Merle Africa and Phil Africa) died in custody. Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office represent Chuck, Delbert and Eddie in the struggle for their freedom. To support the fight, you may donate to the MOVE9 Legal Fund.
Mike Africa Jr.,MikeAfricaJr [at] gmail.com
Brad Thomson bradjaythomson[at]gmail.com 773-297-9689
20 Years on the Move: John Africa’s Revolution (excerpt)
“MOVE‘s work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life – people, animals, any form of life. the purpose of John Africa’s revolution is to show people through John Africa’s teaching, the truth – that this system is the cause of all their problems (alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, wife abuse, child pornography, every problem in the world) and to set the example of revolution for people to follow when they realize how they’ve been oppressed, repressed, duped, tricked by this system, this government and see the need to rid themselves of this cancerous system as MOVE does.”
Source: 20 Years on the Move: John Africa’s Revolution (excerpt)