Philadelphia burning: The city’s forgotten outrage against a Black community

MOVE Bombing
Workers use a screen to sift through debris brought from the gutted MOVE house on May 16, 1985.
  • On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on 6621 Osage Avenue which left 11 people dead, including five children, and burned down 61 homes.
  • The building was the headquarters of MOVE, a radical West Philadelphia group whose ideology combined Black revolutionary ideals with environmental and animal rights.
  • In 1988, a grand jury cleared then-Mayor Wilson Goode and other top city officials of criminal liability for death and destruction resulting from the incident.
  • This month Philadelphia City Council voted to formally apologize for their decision to approve a bombing.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Philadelphia City Council finally voted to apologize for their decision to approve a bombing, which left 11 people dead, including five children, in 1985, an outrage that has been all-but-forgotten.

On May 13, police dropped an explosive device on the roof of 6621 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia after a daylong confrontation with the Black radical group, MOVE, as officers tried to evict them from their compound, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The police fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the building before dropping the bomb from a helicopter onto the building's roof, igniting the destructive inferno. 

Gregore J. Sambor, the Police Commissioner who directed the bombing, resigned in November of that year. A grand jury in 1988 cleared then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode and other top city officials of criminal liability for death and destruction resulting from the operation, the New York Times reported.

However, W. Wilson Goode wrote in The Guardian: "The event will remain in my conscience for the rest of my life."

Scroll down to find out more about the day the police bombed a black neighborhood.

On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on 6621 Osage Avenue which left 11 people dead, including five children, and burned down 61 homes.
MOVE Bombing
Rowhouses burn after the police dropped a bomb on MOVE headquarters at 6621 Osage Avenue, Philadelphia on May 13, 1985.

Since 1981, the building had been the headquarters of MOVE, a radical West Philadelphia group whose ideology combined Black revolutionary ideals with environmental and animal rights.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

The police fired 10,000 rounds of ammunition in under 90 minutes at 6621 Osage Avenue, which was known to be occupied by children, at 6am on May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission found.
MOVE Bombing
Several Philadelphia police officers stroll through the West Philadelphia neighborhood destroyed by the bombing of the MOVE headquarters.

Source: The New York Times

They then dropped a satchel bomb laced with Tovex and C-4 explosives, a military-grade demolition device typically used in combat, on the MOVE compound, the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission added.
MOVE Bombing
A Philadelphia police officer from the Stake-Out Unit stands on the rooftop of 6621 Osage Avenue after the police dropped a bomb on it on May 13, 1985.

Source: Vox

The bomb then sparked a blaze that was left to rage by authorities until there were 11 deaths, including those of five children, and 61 homes destroyed.
MOVE Bombing
A worker transports the remains of a body found within the debris from Osage Avenue, West Philadelphia on May 16, 1985.

Source: The Guardian

The mostly Black neighborhood block surrounding the MOVE headquarters was also completely destroyed with bodies buried amongst the rubble.
MOVE Bombing
The area surrounding Osage Avenue, Philadelphia burnt to the ground pictured on May 14, 1985.

Source: NPR

There were two survivors: 13-year-old Birdie Africa and 30-year-old Ramona Africa. She was immediately arrested on rioting and conspiracy charges.
MOVE Bombing
Ramona Africa is led to prison from Philadelphia City Hall on April 14, 1986, after being sentenced to 7 years.

She served seven years while Birdie Africa, who later took the name Michael Moses Ward, died in 2013.

Source: The Washington Post

MOVE was founded in 1972 by Vincent Leaphart, a Korean War veteran who took the name John Africa to demonstrate his reverence for the continent.
MOVE Bombing
John Africa smiles with MOVE supporter Jeannette Knight as he leaves federal court in Philadelphia on July 23, 1981, after being acquitted on weapons and conspiracy charges by a jury that deliberated for almost six days.

The group had a mixed relationship with their neighbors and the local community but frequently had run-ins with law enforcement.

Source: Teen Vogue

In 1978, MOVE engaged in a 15-month standoff with then-Mayor Frank Rizzo who ordered them to vacate their original home for 'violating city ordinance rules.'
MOVE Bombing
MOVE members hold sawed-off shotguns and automatic weapons as they stand in front of their barricaded headquarters in Philadelphia on May 21, 1977, following reports they might be evicted.

He had a notoriously poor relationship with the black community and MOVE began to arm themselves.

Source: Vox

It culminated in the death of Police Officer James Ramp who was fatally shot during a confrontation in Powelton Village, Philadelphia on August 8, 1978.
MOVE Bombing
Police Officer James Ramp is lifted into a police van after being shot in Powelton Village, Philadelphia on August 8, 1978.

Nine members of MOVE received life sentences for the incident which also injured 13 others and became known as the MOVE 9. 

Source: Vox

 

The beating of MOVE member, Delbert Africa, which ensued after the shooting was caught on camera and became an infamous example of police brutality.
Delbert Africa
Delbert Africa pictured on March 1, 1978.

He always maintained in innocence and was released on January 18, 2020 after spending almost 32 years behind bars. He died in June.

Source: WHYY

Philadelphia's first Black mayor, Wilson Goode gave the order to evict MOVE from Osage Avenue where they had been based for the past three years.
MOVE Bombing
Mayor Wilson Goode gestures during his testimony before the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission on November 6, 1985.

He has since apologised four times and wrote in The Guardian: "The event will remain in my conscience for the rest of my life."

 

In 1988, a grand jury cleared then-Mayor Wilson Goode and other top city officials of criminal liability for death and destruction resulting from the incident.
MOVE Bombing
City government leaders testify before the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission on November 6, 1985. Show from the left in the front row are: Mayor W. Wilson Goode; former Managing Director Leo Brooks; Fire Commissioner W. William Richmond; and Police Commissioner Gregore Sambor. Show from the left in the background are attorneys Jeffrey Miller and Carmen Nasuti representing Richmond.

Gregore J. Sambor, the Police Commissioner who directed the bombing resigned in November 1985.

Source: The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

After founder John Africa died in the bombing, Ramona Africa became the group's spokesperson and continues to advocate for the still imprisoned MOVE 9.
Ramona Africa
Ramona Africa hugs Denise Garner during a commemorative march for the victims of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia on May 14, 2005.

She was awarded $1.5m in damages while John Africa's family who also lost his nephew received $1m.

Source: The Baltimore Sun

MOVE members, many of who are the descendants of the originals, still live together in West Philadelphia and participate in peaceful protests throughout the US.
MOVE Bombing
MOVE supporters raise their arms in the Black Power salute as the funeral procession for leader John Africa passes.

Source: The New Next

 

 

 

Philadelphia City Council voted to formally apologize for the bombing this month, 35 years after it happened. It also agreed to an annual remembrance on May 13.
Philadelphia Bombing
Police, fire fighters, and other workers search through the rubble on Osage Avenue, West Philadelphia on May 15, 1985.

The vote was introduced by Councillor Jamie Gauthier who grew up close to where the attck occured and whose district also includes it.

Source: The Guardian

The statue of then-Mayor Frank Rizzo who ordered MOVE to vacate their original home for 'violating city ordinance rules' in 1978 has been taken down.
Frank Rizzo Statue
Statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner, Frank Rizzo, at Thomas Paine Plaza, Philadelphia being guarded by police officers on September 14, 2017.

It was removed from Thomas Paine Plaza, Philadelphia on June 3, 2o20 amid the Black Lives Matter protests in the city.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

 

 

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