Phil Africa, New York Times Obituary

Phil Africa, of Black-Liberation Group Move, Long in Prison, Dies at 59

By SAM ROBERTS, JAN. 14, 2015

Dick Gregory and Phil Africa

Dick Gregory and Phil Africa Speak, 1978

Phil Africa, a high-ranking member of the Philadelphia-based black-liberation group Move, who was serving a 30- to 100-year sentence in the 1978 fatal shooting of a police officer, died on Saturday, January 10th, at the state prison in Dallas, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre. He was 59.

A prison spokeswoman, Robin Lucas, attributed the death to unspecified natural causes.

Move is best known for the 24-hour siege at one of its houses in Philadelphia in 1985 that ended when the state police dropped a bomb, touching off a fire — the worst in the city’s history — that left 11 people dead and destroyed more than 60 homes. Phil Africa was in prison at the time.

Born William Phillips on Jan. 1, 1956, he adopted the surname Africa, as did the other eight defendants in his case, which stemmed from an earlier effort to oust Move from its West Philadelphia headquarters.

At that time, the administration of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo demanded that the building be vacated because of sanitary and building code violations. Members of the group responded by arming themselves and transforming the building into a fortress. Phil Africa was convicted of third-degree murder in a shootout that followed months of conflict.

In addition to the officer who was fatally shot, James Ramp, four officers and five firefighters were injured.

“Rehabilitation in this case would be absurd,” Judge Edwin S. Malmed of the Court of Common Pleas declared in passing sentence in 1981. “Anyone not revolted by the events of that day just doesn’t have a sound mind.”

Ramona Africa, a spokeswoman for Move, said on its website that Mr. Africa was the second of the nine defendants to die in prison, and described his death as suspicious.

“This is another example of how the system hates Move and will do anything to stop Move,” she said, adding, “Phil was a father figure to many.”

Ms. Lucas, the prison spokeswoman, said Mr. Africa had been in the prison infirmary for about a week.

Information on his survivors was not available.