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PHOTO ESSAY

The 1985 Move Incident

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John Africa

John Africa. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The founder of MOVE was born Vincent Leapheart in the Mantua neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1931. A Korean War veteran, Leapheart was working as a handyman when he met white University of Pennsylvania graduate student Donald Glassey in the early 1970s. By that time Leapheart had begun referring to himself as John Africa, a homage to his heritage and "the source of life." Glassey quickly became enamored with Africa's teachings, which included a rejection of modern developments such as capitalism, industry, electricity, and birth control, along with an embrace of an urban back-to-the-land philosophy based on the "principle of natural law." With Glassey's help, Africa, who was largely illiterate, completed The Guidelines, a 300-page manifesto articulating his views. Africa successfully recruited a few dozen followers consisting of "various members of his family, homeless people, college students, business people, and political activists" (Mjagkij, 384), and in 1974 took up residence in a house bought by Glassey in the Powelton Village neighborhood. Like their leader, all members—mostly black, but some white—took on the surname Africa. While initially accepted by their neighbors, MOVE increasingly drew complaints for its eccentric practices, such as composting food scraps and feces in its backyard and shouting messages through bullhorns at all hours. It was the organization's showdown with Philadelphia police, however, that eventually forced its removal and relocation.

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