Attack on Black liberation group MOVE: The day Philadelphia bombed its…

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The Black liberation group MOVE was established in 1972 in the US city of Philadelphia. It combined a wide range of ideologies, including environmentalism, animal rights and an end to capitalism. The group’s activities were closely watched by law enforcement, at times leading to armed confrontation. Tensions peaked on May 13, 1985, when the Philadelphia police bombed the MOVE house, killing 11 Black people. Despite two grand jury investigations and a civil suit, no one was ever criminally charged for the bombing. More than 35 years later, FRANCE 24’s correspondents returned to Philadelphia to revisit the day the city bombed its own citizens.

Often labelled a cult, MOVE was established by Vincent Leaphart, who changed his name to John Africa, a nod to the continent “where life began”. The surname Africa was adopted by all MOVE members, who were living in a communal setting in a West Philadelphia house. The 1985 bombing killed six adults, including John Africa, and five children. The ensuing fire destroyed dozens of other houses, leaving hundreds of people homeless.

In November 2020, the Philadelphia city council formally apologised for the bombing, acknowledging the “immeasurable and lasting harm” it caused and establishing an annual day of remembrance. But while the MOVE bombing lives on by Philadelphia residents, it remains largely forgotten in the US collective memory.

Ramona Africa, who survived the 1985 bombing, still lives in Philadelphia.
Ramona Africa, who survived the 1985 bombing, nevertheless lives in Philadelphia. © FRANCE 24 screengrab

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