On May 13, 1985 Philadelphia became known as the city that bombed itself.
MOVE, a radical black liberation group, was the target of this bombing. MOVE was founded by John Africa in 1972. The organization’s headquarters was located on 6221 Osage Avenue. The purpose of the organization was to work for animal rights while maintaining a anarcho primitivism philosophy and revolutionary ideology similar to Black Panther.
Members described their day to day life as peaceful. They took the children to the park and lived like ordinary people. All the members followed certain guidelines. They wore their hair in dreads because they rejected combs as a symbol of industrialization, took the last name Africa to signify that they were all members of the same family, opposed modern technology and luxuries, and ate plant based. The children didn’t attend public school and were taught the organization’s guidelines instead. They would also dressed in as little clothing as possible in order to avoid tainting their skin.
It was reported that many neighbors were offended by MOVE. They disliked how they treated the city like a forest and ignored the modern lifestyle. Their main concern was the health standards in the house. They also worried that the children were being neglected. MOVE was initially peaceful but often disturbed neighbors. They attracted police with their nonviolent protest, and multiple neighbors claimed that they would blast profanity laced political diatribes through loudspeakers consistently throughout the day.
After a while, MOVE became increasingly militant. They declared that they would no longer be beaten or intimidated by law enforcement. They started stockpiling weapons and brandishing guns in their yard. The media represented them as “an exotic cult” and “dirty hippies” while the government saw them as a terrorism threat. This was the moment things shifted to a more violent tone.
Mayor Frank Rizzo issued an eviction on their home and claimed that “These people represent nobody but themselves; they’re complete idiots.”
There followed a 15-month standoff. Police attempted to storm the MOVE headquarters and an officer was fatally shot in the head. Nine MOVE members were sentenced 30 to 100 years for the officers death even though it was believed that a fellow officer fired the shot. A video of MOVE member, Delbert Africa, being beaten by the police was taken at the scene and became an infamous example of police brutality.
Ramona Africa was one of the many members in the house the day the bomb was dropped. She stated that “We were getting along with our neighbors and nothing was going on. That’s why we were surprised and shocked when hundreds of cops invaded our area trying to throw MOVE out of our home and this was on Sunday, Mothers Day.”
Nothing happened until later that night when Police Commissioner, Gregory Samborg got on the loudspeaker and said “Attention MOVE this is America. You have 15 minutes to come out.” None of the MOVE members came out because they knew the police wanted to kill them.
“They didn’t want to arrest us, they could have done that anytime,” said Africa.
The MOVE members were in the basement when water started rushing down on them. The police force intended to create a diversion on the roof. They then started tear gassing the house. Soon after, a hole was blown into the house to the left of the MOVE headquarters. The hole was created to come after the members.
“We tried to get out after that. We tried to bring the kids out and was shot back into the house. They shot over 10,000 bullets so that was their intent to kill everybody in that house,” said Africa.
Many of the bystanders agreed that they “Shouldn’t kill the people and their babies” and that the “Shooting was an embarrassment to Philadelphia.”
There was a long interval of silence and that brought comfort to many of the MOVE members and then the bomb was dropped. 65 buildings (two whole blocks) including the MOVE headquarters were lit on fire.
People yelled to the firefighters to put the fire out but Samborg told the fire commissioner to “Let the fire burn” so they let the fire burn an hour and a half before police called in the firefighters.
After that, they all decided to exit the house and hollered to the police that they were coming out with the children. The police responded with gunshots.
On Africa’s way out she grabbed Birdie, one of the MOVE children, and took him out of the “Blazing inferno”. Police grabbed the child, put him in the police van, and took him away. “I never saw him again,” Africa said.
Police grabbed Africa and put handcuffs on her arms despite the fact that her body was covered in burns.
“In the hospital I was looking for the rest of my family to come in. Nobody came in behind me and that’s when I knew, some of my family at least were dead,” said Africa.
Five children and six adults were later found in the rubble of the MOVE home.
“Nobody was arrested for the murder of my family. Nobody went to jail but me. I was arrested. I was the only one put on trial for arson, conspiracy, everything that they did they charged me with,” said Africa.
She was imprisoned for seven years and hasn’t been back to Osage Avenue since May 13th. It took awhile for many to come back to that area. Some, like Ramona simply never had the stomach to come back.
“Today I still have the burn scars from May 13 of 85. Some people have told me ‘you should get cosmetic surgery, They can take that off’ and I said why would I take it off? I want to be reminded,” Ramona Africa told Vice News during the end of her video interview.
There are many things that to this day are unclear on the whole situation itself. The whole story goes completely unknown by a large percentage of Americans. Even those who grew up in Philadelphia are shocked by how new the story is to them. This leaves many to question why it’s not being taught today in classrooms across the nation.
For more information on the MOVE Bombing, click here.