1985 MOVE Incident
Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at the 1985 MOVE incident in Philadelphia.
Officially, the police arrived at 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia to serve a warrant. The house was the headquarters of MOVE, a self-described "family of strong, serious, deeply committed revolutionaries" founded on the teachings of a man named John Africa. A lifetime Philadelphia resident and Korean War veteran, Africa, born Vincent Leapheart, founded MOVE in the early 1970s with the help of Donald Glassey, a white social work graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania.
While the organization began as expressly nonviolent, by 1978 clashes with authorities—often resulting in imprisonment, fines, or beatings—drew MOVE increasingly toward militancy. Coupled with their neoprimitive lifestyle—members ate only raw food, allowed vermin and other animals to roam freely on their property, and shunned almost all modern technology—MOVE's assertiveness began to take its toll on their neighbors in Cobbs Creek, which by the 1980s was one of the city's most prosperous black neighborhoods.
Aggravated by years of fruitless complaining to the city, the block association representing Osage Avenue called a press conference in March 1985. By this time MOVE had built bunkers in their basement and on their roof. Attempts by Mayor W. Wilson Goode to mediate the conflict were ultimately unsuccessful, and on 12 March 1985, the city, under Goode's command, acted, issuing warrants for the arrest of MOVE members Ramona, Conrad, Theresa, and Frank Africa. Each refused to surrender, setting off a chain of violence that culminated in the helicopter bombing of MOVE headquarters, an inconceivable event that caused the deaths of 11 people, including five children. That the incident occurred in Philadelphia, a Quaker-founded city, hub of the Underground Railroad, and African American cultural center, rendered the episode even more poignant. 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the incident.
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The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about the MOVE incident. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)