MOVE: Over four decades of resistance

By Ted Kelly
July 30, 2018
Reprinted from International Action Center website

MOVE 9 40 Year Commemoration

Earlier this summer, Philadelphia was in a state of celebration when political prisoner Debbie Africa was released after nearly four decades in prison. In August, prison abolitionists, in Philadelphia and across the world, will observe an anniversary with more solemnity than rejoicing.

August 8, 2018, marks the 40th anniversary of the city’s first major assault on the MOVE family, an episode that ended in the death of one of the family’s infants and in the arrest and imprisonment of nine MOVE family members.

To commemorate this anniversary, a three-part event will be held on Aug. 5. At 10 a.m., there will be a 5k run and walk that starts in Fairmount Park and goes to the original MOVE house in the city’s Powelton Village neighborhood. Then, at 3 p.m., there will be a public forum at Mastery Shoemaker High School on what today’s movements should learn from MOVE’s struggle. Following that forum will be a live concert at 5 p.m. featuring local artists Seraiah Nicole, Mic Africa, Raw Life Crew and more.

Free the MOVE 9

Debbie Africa, with son Mike Africa Jr. with photo of still imprisoned husband/father Mike Africa Sr

Debbie Africa with son Mike Jr. and photo of still imprisoned husband/ father Mike Africa Sr. LBWPhoto

Michael Africa Sr., one of the MOVE 9, has a new parole hearing this September. Despite the fact that Janet and Janine Africa were also up for parole at the same time as Debbie, she remains the only member of the MOVE 9 to be released. Debbie was imprisoned in 1978 along with her partner Mike Sr., as well as Delbert, Phil, Janet, Janine, Eddie, Merle and Chuck Africa.

All nine were convicted of the murder of a Philadelphia police officer who died from being struck by one of his fellow officers’ bullets in the hail of gunfire the police blasted into the MOVE home. Despite forensic evidence and scores of eyewitnesses indicating the officer was slain by “friendly fire,” all nine of the arrested MOVE members were convicted of firing the single bullet that killed him.

Immediately after the police assault on the MOVE family, the city bulldozed and destroyed the house, annihilating any and all evidence that could have been used to help exonerate the MOVE 9. The demolition also erased all evidence of the police siege on the compound and the massive structural damage done to the house by police water cannons, chemical gas and thousands of rounds of ammunition fired into the home.

Despite all this, even the city had to acknowledge that of the few weapons that were recovered from the MOVE family home, none of them were operable. That is to say, the MOVE 9 had no way of shooting anyone. Yet each of the MOVE 9 were sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison.

Judge Edwin Malmed, who handed down the bogus convictions, was asked by then reporter Mumia Abu-Jamal how it could be considered a just decision that nine people were convicted of firing a single bullet. Malmed replied that since the nine wanted to be tried as a family, he convicted them as a family.

A history of oppression — and resistance

The Philadelphia police assault on the MOVE family on Aug. 8, 1978, was a clear escalation of violence, brutality and injustice. But the war on the Philadelphia Black Liberation movement had been raging for at least a decade before. The generalissimo who prosecuted that war was Frank Rizzo, the white supremacist police commissioner turned mayor.

A major attack on Black Liberation began in August 1970 when police raided the Philadelphia Black Panther headquarters. Dozens of Panthers were publicly stripped naked on Columbia Avenue before their arrest. In that era of Cointelpro infiltration, intimidation and assassination, the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers was just one of many to go underground or be destroyed outright.

The MOVE Organization, led by the visionary John Africa, is what filled the vacuum left by the Panthers in Philadelphia. With an ideology that combined an uncompromising dedication to Black Liberation with an unprecedented commitment to environmental justice and animal rights, MOVE became a revolutionary force to be reckoned with.

In a recent interview in Workers World, Debbie Africa explained: “[My brothers] got involved in MOVE activities, in speaking engagements — at the time they were in full throttle speaking out against injustice. They loved it, taking care of the dogs and going to study sessions that MOVE founder John Africa held, educating people how to avoid violence in their communities and on police brutality — the things that made people’s lives miserable.”

She added: “John Africa’s teachings really lock you into the reality of what’s really going on. The rest is history.”

For years, the city attempted to lock up members of the MOVE Organization. But John, and later Ramona, Africa’s remarkable legal astuteness meant they often escaped serious charges. That changed in 1978 when weeks of a siege on the MOVE house culminated in the Aug. 8 assault and the imprisonment of the MOVE 9.

Three years later, Black Panther journalist and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal was also framed for the murder of a Philadelphia cop. A key witness to that incident was found dead under mysterious circumstances on May 13, 1985 — the same night that Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on the new MOVE house on Osage Avenue, killing eleven people, including founder John Africa and five children.

In the years since the 1978 assault and the 1985 state murders, the MOVE family has flourished and grown, despite mainstream media accounts to the contrary. Still, the city’s oppression has taken its toll. Mumia Abu-Jamal and six of the MOVE 9 are still in prison after 40 years. Merle and Phil Africa were murdered by the prison system — they died under lock and key.

This fortieth anniversary must mark not just four decades of resistance, but also a new chapter in that struggle.

Free the MOVE 9! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free ‘em all!

‘This is huge’: black liberationist speaks out after her 40 years in prison

Reprint from original
By Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian
June 18, 2018

Exclusive: Debbie Sims Africa, the first freed member of a radical Philadelphia group many say were unjustly imprisoned, talks about reuniting with her son and defends the Move members still locked up: ‘We are peaceful people’

Debbie Sims Africa, age 22

Debbie Sims Africa was 22 when she was sentenced. Her release is seen as a major breakthrough for those imprisoned during the black liberation movement. Photograph: Courtesy of Michael Davis Africa Jr

The first member of a group of black radicals known as the Move Nine who have been incarcerated, they insist unjustly, for almost 40 years for killing a Philadelphia police officer has been released from prison.

Debbie Sims Africa, 61, walked free from Cambridge Springs prison in Pennsylvania on Saturday, June 16, 2018, having been granted parole. She was 22 when with her co-defendants she was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 100 years for the shooting death of officer James Ramp during a police siege of the group’s communal home on 8 August 1978.

She emerged from the correctional institution to be reunited with her son, Michael Davis Africa Jr, to whom she gave birth in a prison cell in September 1978, a month after her arrest.

“This is huge for us personally,” Sims Africa told the Guardian, speaking from her son’s home in a small town on the outskirts of Philadelphia where she will now live.

Davis Africa, 39, who was separated from his mother at less than a week old and has never spent time with her outside prison, said they were coming to terms with being reunited after almost four decades.

“Today I had breakfast with my mother for the first time,” he said. “There’s so much we haven’t done together.”

The release of Debbie Sims Africa is a major breakthrough regarding the ongoing incarceration of large numbers of individuals involved in the black liberation movement of the late 1960s and 1970s who are now growing old behind bars. At least 25 men and women belonging to Move or the former Black Panther party remain locked up, in some cases almost half a century after their arrests.

Michael Davis Africa Jr

Michael Davis Africa Jr on reunited with his mother: ‘There’s so much we haven’t done together.’ Photograph: Ed Pilkington for the Guardian

Sims Africa’s release also addresses one of the most hotly contested criminal justice cases in Philadelphia history. The nine were prosecuted together following a police siege of their headquarters in Powelton Village at the orders of Philadelphia’s notoriously hardline mayor and former police commissioner, Frank Rizzo.

Move, which exists today, regarded itself as a revolutionary movement committed to a healthy life free from oppression or pollution. In the 1970s it was something of a cross between black liberationists and early environmental activists. Its members all take “Africa” as their last name, to signal that they see each other as family.

Hundreds of police officers, organized in Swat teams and armed with machine guns, water cannons, teargas and bulldozers, were involved in the siege, which came at the end of a long standoff with the group relating to complaints about conditions in its premises. Two water cannon and smoke bombs were unleashed. The Move residents took refuge in a basement.

I had to feel my way up the stairs to get out of the basement with my baby in my arms

Sims Africa was eight months pregnant and was carrying her two-year-old daughter, Michelle. “We were being battered with high-powered water and smoke was everywhere,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hands in front of my face and I was choking. I had to feel my way up the stairs to get out of the basement with my baby in my arms.”

Shooting broke out and Ramp was killed by a single bullet. Prosecutors alleged that Move members fired the fatal shot and charged Sims Africa and the other eight with collective responsibility for his death.

Eyewitnesses, however, gave accounts suggesting that the shot may have come from the opposite direction to the basement, raising the possibility that Ramp was accidentally felled, by police fire. After the raid was over, weapons were found within the property. None were in operative condition.

In 1985, Philadelphia authorities carried out an even more controversial and deadly action against the remaining members of Move. A police helicopter dropped an incendiary bomb on to the roof of its then HQ in west Philadelphia, killing six adults including the group’s leader, John Africa, and five of their children.

That incident continues to have the distinction of being the only aerial bombing by police carried out on US soil.

At Sims Africa’s trial, no evidence was presented that she or the three other women charged alongside her had brandished or handled firearms during the siege. Nor was there any attempt on the part of the prosecution to prove that they had had any role in firing the shot that killed Ramp.

Sims Africa has had an unblemished disciplinary record in prison for the past 25 years. The last claim of misconduct against her dates to 1992.

Her attorneys presented the parole board with a 13-page dossier outlining her work as a mentor to other prisoners and as a dog handler who trains puppies that assist people with physical and cognitive disabilities. The dossier includes testimony from the correctional expert Martin Horn, who reviewed her record and concluded it was “remarkable”.

1984 Philadelphia police and FBI bombing of Move members

Philadelphia burn after officials dropped a bomb on the Move house in 1985. Photograph: AP

Horn said Sims Africa had “chosen to be a rule-abiding individual with the ability to be a productive, law-abiding citizen if she is released. I see a record of growing maturity, improved judgment and the assumption of personal responsibility. I do not believe that Debbie Sims is today a threat to the community.”

Sims Africa’s lawyer, Brad Thomson, commended the parole board for “recognizing that she is of exceptional character and well-deserving of parole. This is a storied victory for Debbie and her family, and the Move organization, and we are hoping it will be the first step in getting all the Move Nine out of prison.”

The release of Sims Africa comes less than two months before the 40th anniversary of the siege. Commemorative events are being held in Philadelphia, organised by Move, on 5 and 11 August.

The release of Sims Africa is bittersweet, however. Two of the nine have died in prison – another female inmate, Merle Austin Africa, in March 1998, and Phil Africa in January 2015.

Having to leave them was hard. I was torn up inside because I want to come home but I want them to come with me

Also bittersweet is the fact that Sims Africa went up for parole at exactly the same time, and on exactly the same terms, as the other two remaining Move Nine women – Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Hollaway Africa. They were both denied parole and will have to wait until May 2019 to try again.

Thomson said the disparity in the parole board’s decision was “very surprising”, given that the Philadelphia district attorney’s office that carried out the original trial prosecution had written letters supporting parole for all three. The parole board gave what the lawyer said were “boilerplate justifications” for the denial of Phillips Africa and Hollaway Africa, saying they displayed “lack of remorse”.

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Debbie Sims Africa’s husband also remains behind bars. Mike Davis Africa Sr is next up before the parole board, in September. The other Move Nine prisoners are Chuck Sims Africa, Delbert Orr Africa and Eddie Goodman Africa.

Michael Africa Jr and mother Debbie Sims Africa

Debbie Sims Africa with her son after her release from prison. Photograph: Courtesy of Michael Davis Africa Jr

Debbie Sims Africa told the Guardian the remaining prisoners were constantly in her mind and that she planned to devote much of her time campaigning for their release.

“Having to leave them was hard,” she said. “I was torn up inside because of course I want to come home but I want them to come with me. I was in shock when it didn’t happen that way.”

Asked if the two Move women with whom she had shared a cell in Cambridge Springs would be a threat to society if released, she said: “Absolutely not. They would not be a danger as I’m not.

“Nobody from the Move movement has been released from prison and ever committed a crime, going back to 1988. We are peaceful people.”

FRAMED IN AMERICA: THE MAKING OF POLITICAL PRISONERS

Free the MOVE 9 - 40 Years Too Long!Sat., February 24, 2018,
The National Black Theatre,
2031 5th Avenue (corner 125th St.),
Harlem, NY  10035

Join:
Ramona Africa, Fred Hampton Jr., Pam Africa, Roger Wareham, Betty Davis, Ralph Poynter, Johanna Fernandez
As They Rally For Parole For Move Political Prisoners in 2018

Program: 5 – 8 pm
Dinner on sale: 4 pm
Vendors Village: 4 pm

For Program and Vending Reservations call (347) 641-2773 or go to OnaMove.com

Event live streaming at PictureTheStruggle.org

FREE THE MOVE 9!

For more info contact  (215) 386-1165 and onamovellja@aol.com

MOVE bombing will be the subject of Philadelphia opera fest world premiere

David Patrick Stearns, Music Critic
Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News/Philly.com

MOVE OperaWhat started as a “hip h’opera” involving student poets in public schools has evolved into what will be perhaps the most daring show in Opera Philadelphia’s O17 festival this fall: We Shall Not be Moved, about modern-day displaced kids confronting the ghosts of the notorious 1985 MOVE bombing.

Details about the project have just been released in advance of the Sept. 16-24 performances at the Wilma Theater. The Philadelphia world premiere will be followed by runs at New York’s Apollo Theater and London’s Hackney Empire. The message from the creative team, most of whom are not from Philadelphia, is this: The opera doesn’t take a position or even dramatize the showdown between MOVE and local police that ended with the bombing that burned an extensive section of West Philadelphia.

“We’re not reopening the wound. The wound is present … and that’s true of so many things in American history,” said librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, 41. “It’s about how do we responsibly ask questions … in a past that’s never really lost.”

“First and foremost, this is … a musical theater experience with serious questions at its core,” said the much-honored director/choreographer Bill T. Jones, 65. “People are kind of nervous about it … and though we’ve watched many hours of documentary footage … the question is what is truth and reconciliation here.”

Those posing the questions are five teen runaways who take refuge in abandoned buildings on the original MOVE site (which was on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia). Each teen represents a particular aspect of modern urban life: one is transgender, another is white yet identifies as African American, and so on. All are haunted by the ghosts of children who died in the 1985 fire. Added to all that is a tough Latina police officer whose provocative lines include “The one with the gun has the moral high ground, no?” The operatic score is not likely to sound like Carmen. The eclectic composer is Haitian American Daniel Bernard Roumain, who has worked intensively with Jones in years past.

Modern parallels with police violence were almost accidental, said Joseph. The project began around 2013, when he was working with student poets, in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary. He had a mandate from Opera Philadelphia: determine whether an operatic theater piece could be drawn from their work. What struck Joseph was the absence of active awareness of the past in a social-media generation that exists in the present amid a near-forgotten yesterday, not to mention a major historic event such as the MOVE bombing. He first drafted the libretto in 2014, and by the end of the year, he pitched the idea to Opera Philadelphia. Nobody flinched.

What started as a “hip h’opera” involving student poets in public schools has evolved into what will be perhaps the most daring show in Opera Philadelphia’s O17 festival this fall: We Shall Not be Moved, about modern-day displaced kids confronting the ghosts of the notorious 1985 MOVE bombing.

Details about the project have just been released in advance of the Sept. 16-24 performances at the Wilma Theater. The Philadelphia world premiere will be followed by runs at New York’s Apollo Theater and London’s Hackney Empire. The message from the creative team, most of whom are not from Philadelphia, is this: The opera doesn’t take a position or even dramatize the showdown between MOVE and local police that ended with the bombing that burned an extensive section of West Philadelphia.

“We’re not reopening the wound. The wound is present … and that’s true of so many things in American history,” said librettist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, 41. “It’s about how do we responsibly ask questions … in a past that’s never really lost.”

“First and foremost, this is  … a musical theater experience with serious questions at its core,” said the much-honored director/choreographer Bill T. Jones, 65. “People are kind of nervous about it … and though we’ve watched many hours of documentary footage … the question is what is truth and reconciliation here.”

Those posing the questions are five teen runaways who take refuge in abandoned buildings on the original MOVE site (which was on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia). Each teen represents a particular aspect of modern urban life: one is transgender, another is white yet identifies as African American, and so on. All are haunted by the ghosts of children who died in the 1985 fire. Added to all that is a tough Latina police officer whose provocative lines include “The one with the gun has the moral high ground, no?” The operatic score is not likely to sound like Carmen. The eclectic composer is Haitian American Daniel Bernard Roumain, who has worked intensively with Jones in years past.

Modern parallels with police violence were almost accidental, said Joseph. The project began around 2013, when he was working with student poets, in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia and Art Sanctuary. He had a mandate from Opera Philadelphia: determine whether an operatic theater piece could be drawn from their work. What struck Joseph was the absence of active awareness of the past in a social-media generation that exists in the present amid a near-forgotten yesterday, not to mention a major historic event such as the MOVE bombing. He first drafted the libretto in 2014, and by the end of the year, he pitched the idea to Opera Philadelphia. Nobody flinched. 

As much as the MOVE disaster has been examined, the librettist had some startling revelations from interviewing survivors. “There were white children who died in the fire,” he said. “MOVE is painted as a separatist group, which is probably right, but also segregated, which is totally wrong.” The libretto, in fact, wasn’t finished until March, which makes the final gestation of the piece incredibly fast by operatic standards. This process usually takes years.

Jones describes the project as being in “mid-stroke,” with creative-team members making their own lists of priorities. However, dance is likely to be prominent, if only because Jones is a choreographer, and he has hired Raphael Xavier, an alum of Philadelphia dance company Rennie Harris Puremovement, to supply more hip-hop elements. Joseph calls the approach “choreographic poetry … the idea that poetry can be spoken through the body.” Especially the ghosts.

Roumain wasn’t available for comment, but Jones pointed out that the term opera has been defined more loosely in recent years. The score is expected to have the gravity of opera but with surface elements of  gospel, jazz, and African folklore. A video element is particularly in a state of artistic flux but may be used to set the historic context of the original MOVE tragedy.

Much will be decided after rehearsals begin in August, during which We Shall Not Be Moved will be in production along with four other productions: a Komische Oper Berlin production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute Sept. 15-24 at the Academy of Music, Kevin Puts’ Elizabeth Cree Sept. 14-23 at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, a Monteverdi/Lembit Beecher double bill titled War Stories Sept. 16-23 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and David Hertzberg’s The Wake World Sept. 18-25 at the Barnes Foundation.

The We Shall Not Be Moved company has roughly a month to pull together a hybrid work for which few clear templates exist. Yet Jones is tentatively confident: “We don’t often work in such a complicated palette. But I’m committed to keeping things smiling,” he said. “They [the collaborators] are ambitious and talented, and I think it’s going to be all right. Sometimes I’m very stern. The [set building] shop is doing three or four productions. But they’re very organized and the spirit is in a good place right now.”

Note from Ramona:

ONA MOVE, family, and friends! You may be aware that an opera based on MOVE (We Shall Not Be Moved) has been produced and opens at The Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia on Saturday, September 16th. What you, our NYC area friends, may not know is that this same opera will be at The Apollo Theatre on Friday, October 6th and Saturday, October 7th. I understand that tickets are $28.50 and $53.50 but double check that. For our friends in and around London in the UK, this opera based on MOVE, will open at The Hackney Empire from October 14th through the 21st. Ticket prices depend on where you want to sit. Hope some of our friends in and around the London area will be able to attend one of the performances. Be well and lots of love—–Ramona

Children of the MOVE family remember MOVE 9 during dedication of new marker

MOVE family youth at marker ceremony on June 24, 2017During the dedication of the new marker on Saturday, June 24, 2017, children of the MOVE family stand silently with photos of MOVE members who have been incarcerated for 38 years. Photograph by Ed Hille, Staff Photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.

A historical marker was unveiled during a ceremony this afternoon at Osage Avenue and Cobbs Creek Parkway, Philadelphia, where the Move activist community lived until they along with neighbors were bombed in 1985.

The marker is the result of two years’ worth of work by students at the Jubilee School.

Unveiling of MOVE historical marker with MOVE youth speaking

Jubilee School youth unveiling MOVE historical marker

Save the Date: MOVE Art Exhibit and Commemoration

August 5, 2017 - Free the MOVE 9 Program at House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, NYSaturday, August 5, 2017,

2 – 4 pm: MOVE Art Exhibit – With The Art of Sophia Dawson
$20 – Fundraiser

5 – 8 pm: Program – 39 Years Too Long: Free The Move 9
Free
Featuring:
Ramona Africa (Move Org), Pam Africa (ICFFMAJ), Lawrence Hamm (POP), Suzanne Ross (Free Mumia Coalition), James McIntosh (CEMOTAP), Inez Barron (NYC Councilperson) & Charles Barron (NYS Assemblyperson), and more to be added

House of The Lord Church
415 Atlantic Avenue (bet. Bond & Nevins Sts.) – see map
Brooklyn, NY

For more info: (215) 386-1165 & onamovellja@aol.com

Get flyer

Students Campaign For Historical Marker Commemorating MOVE Bombing

June 9, 2017
http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2017/06/09/students-campaign-for-historical-marker-commemorating-move-bombing/ (click link to see video)

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The site of the 1985 “MOVE” bombing in Cobbs Creek will soon get a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker.

Jubilee School Students Sucessfully Campaign For Historical Marker Commemorating MOVE Bombing

    Photo still from the video. Click to go online to watch video on CBS.

It was May 13, 1985, when police bombed the Osage Avenue row home of a group of radical black activists known as MOVE.

The resulting fire destroyed 61 homes and killed 11 people, including five children.

“Children younger and older than us were killed by a bomb that was dropped by police and stuff, and they didn’t even know why,” said Jubilee School 6th grader Ella Adams.

Meet Ella, Hannah, Ishtar, Nigel and David.

“I don’t understand how Philadelphia could do that,” said David Bannister, a 7th grader.

These current and former students at the Jubilee School make up “Songs of the Children,” an anti-violence group.

After learning about MOVE last May, teacher Karen Falcon took the group to Osage Avenue.

“The houses look really worn down, it wasn’t rebuilt well,” said Ishtar El, a 6th grader.

What stood out was what was missing: a memorial telling what happened.

“We were like, ‘how about we make a historical marker?’” said Hannah Romer, a 6th grader.

They got 200 signatures and filled out an application for a historical marker; the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission gave approval in March.

The MOVE Bombing marker will be placed at the corner of Osage and Cobbs Creek Parkway. It will summarize the tragedy, including participation by the city, state police, and FBI.

“It’s really empowering, and it makes me feel happy that we could do something like this,” said Ishtar.

They launched a GoFundMe for the plaque for the June 24th dedication and for a documentary for their campaign.  They also sold baked goods. 

“I really want to show that this is out there, and this happened, and we cannot avoid it,” said Hannah.

And that kids, no matter their age, “we can do something about it, and we can make a difference,” said 7th grader Nigel Carter

By taking action, that makes change.

Cherri Gregg

Report Back: Updates on MOVE and Mumia Abu-Jamal

MOVE Family and Friends at MOVE Conference on May 7, 2017

** Click for larger version **

Thursday, June 1, 2017,
6 – 9 pm,
Solidarity Center, 147 W. 24th St., 2nd Fl.,
New York, NY 10011 – See map.

Presenting: Pam Africa – Ramona Africa – Bob Boyle, Esq. – Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq.
MC: Suzanne Ross

Event free. Light supper available at low cost at 6 pm.
More info call: (212) 633-6646 or (212) 927-2924

Black woman freedom fighter, Ramona Africa, Discusses MOVE, Liberation and Surviving 1985 Bombing

By: Lamont Lilly,
March 20, 2017,
Workers World, Pt. 1 of 2

The U.S. freedom fighter discusses the history of MOVE and what it means to fight for liberation in part one of an exclusive interview.

Former U.S. political prisoner, Ramona Africa, is the Minister of Communication for the MOVE Organization and a Philadelphia-based organizer with the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. She is also the only living survivor of the 1985 MOVE bombing, when the FBI and Philadelphia police dropped two C-4 bombs on her organization’s Philadelphia home, killing 11 people.

Lamont Lilly: Ramona, for those who may be unfamiliar, what is the MOVE Organization? Who founded MOVE, and what is the organization about?

John Africa hug

John Africa hug

Ramona Africa: The MOVE Organization is a revolutionary organization founded by a Black man named John Africa. He brought people together from all different backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc., and gave us one common revolutionary belief. That belief is in the sanctity, and all importance of life, on all levels, without exception. And it is that uncompromising belief commitment to life that has put us in direct conflict with the system that we’re living under, a system that doesn’t care anything about life — whether it’s the air, the water, the soil that feeds us, they don’t care. But as members of MOVE, we are committed to life.

We were animal rights activists long before that term was ever invented. We were environmentalists before that term was ever invented. Everything that John Africa taught us has come full circle.

John Africa had even coordinated a raw food diet for us. He put us in touch with what our natural diet is. People said we were crazy, that we were going to get sick and make our children sick. “You can’t eat raw food like that. You have to cook it,” they would say. Now, what do we see, some 45 years later? You see raw food restaurants, from the West coast to the East coast. You see nutritionists now teaching the benefits of raw food.

John Africa even encouraged MOVE women to have babies naturally, at home. He would tell us, “When you’re pregnant, you’re not sick. You don’t need a hospital to do something as natural as giving birth.” No other species of life goes to a hospital to have a baby.

Another thing, in terms of composting, there’s a new movement going on around this now. Well, MOVE was composting 45 years ago. But when we composted, people went crazy. But today, they put a cute little word on it called “composting” and all of a sudden, it’s the “green” thing to do. We were also homeschooling, 45 years ago.

Lamont Lilly: When exactly did you become a member of MOVE? What period of life was this for you? How did joining MOVE change your life?

Ramona Africa: (Laughing) Oh wow, Lamont! That’s a story within itself. I went to catholic school during my high school years. I had begged my mother to transfer me to a public school, but she wouldn’t do it because she wanted me to have what she perceived as a “good education.” She was also in my ear telling me to be a doctor, be a lawyer, be anything you want to be. So I went with that and decided to focus on the legal system. When I graduated from West Catholic High, I ended up going to Temple University and took up a pre-law curriculum.

It was in my last semester at Temple that I started a work-study program because I needed the money to pay for school. I got hired at community legal services, a free legal aid agency. They assigned me to the housing unit. You can’t work in the Philadelphia housing unit without being an advocate for the poor. That’s when I first started getting active in the community. That period marked my first arrest at the Philadelphia City Council. I eventually had to go to court for that arrest and met a brother named Mel, there. We exchanged numbers, and he would call me and tell me things that were going on. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to go to a meeting to plan a MOVE demonstration.

I lived in West Philadelphia all my life. I had heard about MOVE, but I didn’t really know about MOVE. So I went to the meeting with him. We were supposed to go out that night after the meeting, but I got so wrapped up in the meeting, I wouldn’t go anywhere (laughing). I was really impressed.

The second time I was arrested, the sentencing judge gave me 60 days in the county jail, the “house of corrections.” But you know what, I tell everybody, I owe her a million thanks because she sent me to the county jail for two months, up close and personal with MOVE women. That was the best thing she could have ever done for me. When I walked out, there was no turning back. I wanted to be like MOVE women and became a member in 1979.

Lamont Lilly: It sounds like MOVE really provided a new sense of wholeness and purpose for you.

Ramona Africa: Yes, for me, but my mother had some issues. She was a beautician by trade, and obviously the first thing that struck her was my hair. She had a problem with my hair because, from the time I was knee-high, she would “do my hair” by washing it, pressing it, straightening it and curling it. So, when I let my hair grow and lock on its own, oh my goodness — (laughing) she wasn’t too happy about that.

This was after the Black Power Movement and long before the current period of being Black and unapologetic. A lot of sisters are rocking “naturals” now, but that wasn’t the case in 1979. She also took issue with me not going to law school. I didn’t even go to my graduation at Temple University when I finished undergrad.

Lamont Lilly: You mentioned ‘the system’ earlier and what it had done, can you take us back to May 13, 1985? What happened that day?

Ramona Africa: The first thing that people should be aware of, is that the bombing took place on Monday, May 13, but the cops came out in mass, surrounding our home on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, 1985. They laid siege on our home, supposedly because neighbors were complaining about us. What MOVE was saying was that we weren’t denying that some neighbors had complaints about us, but name one community in this entire country where some neighbor doesn’t complain about the other.

Not only that, when has this government ever cared about Black folks complaining about their neighbors? When did that start? Anyone who believes that is foolish. Obviously, the U.S. government does not care about Black folks complaining, about their neighbors, or anything else for that matter. So that “complaining” excuse was just a lie.

They came out there to kill MOVE — to silence our righteous protests, our unrelenting fight concerning the unjust imprisonment of our family members, the MOVE 9 (who were arrested on the false charge of killing a cop on August 8, 1978). That’s why they came out.

They started just like they did in August of ‘78, with the fire department (who take an oath to run into burning buildings and save lives). But in May of 1985, they worked with the cops to kill off life, to kill off the MOVE organization. Firefighters turned the water hoses against us — each hose pumping out 10,000 pounds of water pressure per minute. They had four of those hoses so that’s 40,000 pounds of water pressure per minute. This water was being pumped out for hours, but there was no fire.

When that didn’t drive us out, they breached 3-inch holes in the connecting walls of our house. They wanted to blow holes into the walls to insert tear gas, at least that’s what they said. When they finished exploding what they “claimed” was supposed to be 3-inch holes in the wall — the whole front of our house was blown away. So, when they started inserting tear gas, a lot of it was just coming right back out. That’s when they opened fire on us, and according to them, shot 10,000 rounds of bullets in the first 90 minutes. They had to send to their arsenal for more ammunition.

We were all in the basement. We heard this loud noise that shook the whole house. We were in the basement, but there was still a lot of tear gas in the house that had not found its way out yet, and it started getting a little warmer in there.

MOVE family home after FBI/police bombing on May 13, 1985As the smoke and gas got thicker, we were like “wait a minute, this is something else.” We were listening and could hear the tree in the back of our house crackling as if it were on fire. That’s when we realized that our house was actually on fire. We immediately tried to get our children, our animals and ourselves out of that blazing inferno. But at the point when we were trying to come out, and could be seen trying to come out, the cops opened fire on us, forcing us back in.

We tried several times to get out, but each time we were shot back into the house. This was a clear indication that they didn’t intend for any of us to survive that attack. But finally, like the third time, we knew that we would either choke to death and be burned alive, or were going to be shot to death. So, we made one more attempt at it, to get out. I was closest and got outside the door. I got Birdie out. Everybody was lined up to come out after us.

One of two survivors, Ramona Africa.It was not until they took me into custody and to the local hospital, that I was looking for the rest of my family, but nobody came in. I’m in the hospital and wondering what was going on. I didn’t find out until I left the hospital and was taken to the police administration building (to the homicide unit). Only then, did I find out that there were no other survivors other than me and my young brother, Birdie Africa.

The police were contemplating charging me with the murder of my family.

They charged me with everything they did: possession of explosives, arson, causing a catastrophe, attempted murder, simple and aggravated assault. But the charges and warrant they came at me with were all dismissed when I was able to challenge them in the pretrial. They eventually dropped those charges. Oh, and I forgot. They also threw in “terroristic threats,” which was ridiculous.

Lamont Lilly: So let me get this clear, after all that, you were charged with attempted murder and arson?

Ramona Africa: Yep. Yes, I was. And that was another eye-opener for me because when all the charges and the warrants that they came at me with were dismissed, it seems like anything that came from these bogus warrants would have to be dropped as well. If their reasons for being out there were invalid, then how could anything that was a result of their presence be valid? But they were never going to drop all the charges on me.

Lamont Lilly: Did you serve time for any of those charges?

Ramona Africa: Yes, I did. First of all, I had a US$4.5 million bail. US$4.5 million! I was in jail from May 1, 1985, up until May 13, 1992, because I was convicted of “rioting,” if you can believe that. I was sentenced to 16 months and 7 years. When my 16-month minimum was up, I was told by the parole board that they would parole me, but only if I agreed to sever all ties with MOVE. Sever ALL ties! And I wasn’t about to do that. Instead of being released at 16 months, I did the whole 7 years.

Lamont Lilly: Eleven people were murdered May 13, 1985. How many children died in that bombing?

Ramona Africa: Five children and six adults! And not one single official, on any level, was ever held accountable, ever charged with a single crime against MOVE. But yet, you have the MOVE 9 being called murderers and being imprisoned for 38 years, working on 39 years now. Meanwhile, the people that murdered 11 of my family members, publicly on May 13 of 1985, not one of them was ever held accountable.

Lamont Lilly: As a new generation accepts the baton of mass resistance, the Black Matters Movement, what words of advice would you share?

Ramona Africa: The first and most important thing is to never stop. Don’t ever stop pushing and fighting. Don’t ever give in! Be consistent. Don’t allow yourselves to be disillusioned. Don’t allow anyone or anything to buy you off. And don’t allow yourselves to be compromised or co-opted, because trust me, they will try. You can definitely believe that!

This system will come at you with all kinds of things. All kinds! But if you fall for it, you’re done. You’re done, and that’s what they bank on. They bank on people flaring up for an instant and then fizzling out.

One last thing I really want the young people to remember. We do this work out of love, not hate. Love for life and the people. Long live John Africa! Long live the revolution! Ona move!

Lamont Lilly was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon. He is also an activist and organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Demand US Atty Gen Loretta Lynch investigate the wrongful ongoing imprisonment of the MOVE 9

Free the MOVE 9!August 8, 2016 will officially mark 38 years since innocent MOVE Members have been unjustly jailed in Pennsylvania state prisons. The position of THE MOVE ORGANIZATION and SUPPORTERS of MOVE has not changed and that position is our family is innocent and we want them home and will not stop fighting until they are home. In 1998 our sister, Merle Africa, died in prison under mysterious circumstances. In 2015 our brother Phil Africa died in prison under mysterious circumstances. From the period of 2008 to as recent as June of 2016 all of our people have been denied parole on what seems to be a questionable bias issue, especially since their prison conduct has been exemplary.

In May of 2015 supporters of the Move 9 put together a petition aimed at United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch demanding an investigation into the wrongful ongoing imprisonment of the Move 9. There are many key facts that demand an investigation into this case by the U.S. Justice Dept.

(1) The Destruction of the Move house by police on August 8, 1978. The house was the scene of the crime and evidence there would easily show that all bullets were shot by the police into the MOVE house, that there were no operable guns in the house and no bullets fired out from the MOVE house.

(2) The Beating Of Delbert Africa By Philadelphia Police on August 8th 1978.
Delbert was visibly unarmed when he was ferociously beaten by police and hospitalized. Delbert’s his civil rights
were violated AND ON FILM, but no police were charged with any crime.

(3) No Move Members were charged with weapons charges after their arrest because they had no weapons–however they were sentenced for shooting a police officer!

(4) After Sentencing Move Members To 30-100 years in prison the trial judge the late Edwin S.Malmed admitted on public radio that he had not the faintest idea who killed officer James Ramp.

Judge Malmed in fact stated that he was sentencing Move Members to prison time for no other reason than being committed MOVE Members.

Sign the petition for a federal investigation now!


Contact these officials who are unfairly denying parole to the MOVE 9

People To Contact and Pressure

PA. Board of Probation And Parole
1101 South Front Street, Suite 5300
Harrisburg, PA. 17104
General: 717-787-5699
Inmate Inquiries: 717-772-4343

Leo Dunn (Chairman); Leslie Grey Esq. ; Everette Gillison Esq.; Craig R. Mckay; Theodore Johnson ; Edward L. Burke; Mark Koch; Linda Pastroff Rosenberg

Media-Related Inquiries: Sherry Tate, Director, 717-231-4411 (8am-5pm)/After 5pm and weekends 717 756-9842/ shtate@pa.gov
Laura Treaster, Deputy Director, 717-231-4411 (8am-4:15pm) ltreaster@pa.gov

More officials>>