MOVE (1972- )

MOVE Fire, May 13, 1985
Image Ownership: Public Domain

MOVE is a countercultural black radical organization founded in 1972 by John Africa (Vincent Leaphart), a black handyman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  MOVE was originally named The Christian Movement for Life.  MOVE, despite being spelled with all capitals, is not an acronym.
MOVE was mainly known for controversial incidents with Philadelphia police in 1978 and 1985 resulting in the death or imprisonment of over 24 of its members and the destruction of millions of dollars in property.  The group followed a book of Guidelines developed by  John Africa which called for a back-to-nature lifestyle which included eating only uncooked, unprocessed foods, no use of electric heat, letting one’s hair grow naturally, support for animal rights, and rejecting “man’s laws.”  The group opposed science, medicine, and technology.

Members of MOVE were mostly black but there were a few whites.  After joining the organization all of the members kept their given names but took the surname “Africa” to show reverence for the African continent which they regarded as their homeland.  Their political activities included protests against city and school board policies, police brutality, and pollution and environmental abuses.

MOVE came to national attention in 1978 when neighbors of the organization’s commune at North 33rd Street in Philadelphia complained to city officials about rats, rotting garbage, fecal odor, and violent arguments between group members.  MOVE members countered that it was morally wrong to kill rodents.   City officials got a court ordered eviction of the residence which led to a three month standoff between MOVE members who barricaded themselves in the house and Philadelphia police.  When Mayor Frank Rizzo ordered police to enter the house on August 8, 1978, one officer, James J. Ramp, was killed and seven other police officers, five firefighters, three MOVE members, and three bystanders were wounded in the subsequent shoot-out.  Nine MOVE members were arrested and in 1980 found guilty of third degree murder in the death of Officer Ramp.

Following the 1978 shoot-out the MOVE house was condemned and razed by the city.  MOVE members scattered but reunited in 1981 and moved into a home at 6221 Osage Avenue in Philadelphia. By 1983 MOVE began to generate complaints by neighbors. Mayor W. Wilson Goode ordered another raid on the MOVE house on May 13, 1985 and approved dropping a bomb into the heavily defended house from a helicopter. Eleven people, including John Africa, five other adults, and four children were killed in the blast and resulting fire. Only two people inside the house survived, Ramona Africa and her child, Birdie. The fire spread to neighboring homes and city blocks eventually consuming 61 homes. Two grand jury investigations found the decision to drop the bomb “unconscionable” and the city was ordered to pay $5 million in damages.

Surviving MOVE members continue to be active in the Philadelphia area.