MOVE is a Philadelphia-based black liberation group. Founded in 1972 by a Korean War veteran named John Africa, its members hold anarchist views and also take strong stances on animal rights, the exploitative nature of American class society, and the oppression of minorities within the country and across the world. Members lived communally, sharing resources and living space.
On May 13, 1985, the Philadelphia Police Department attempted to serve warrants for various alleged offenses committed by MOVE members. They arrived at the group’s communal house on Osage Avenue, located in a densely populated black section of Philadelphia. The police approached with guns drawn, and the group members resolutely defended themselves, fighting the police to a standoff.
With the alleged approval of the city’s African American Mayor, W. Wilson Goode, the police proceeded to drop two bombs on the compound. This triggered a massive fire that ultimately took 11 lives, including those of 5 small children and that of John Africa, and destroyed 65 houses, leaving 250 people homeless. The fire department, which earlier had drenched the building with high-powered water cannons, simply stood by and watched the fire burn under orders from the police, who shot at survivors as they tried to escape.
Nobody from the city government was charged with anything in response to the actual firebombing of a city in the United States, although a report was released by a special commission calling the act “unconscionable.” Yet, not unconscionable enough to warrant criminal charges for the killers of several children and others engaged in the act of self-defense against police with a verified record of defending themselves.
The MOVE bombing left empty spaces in the hearts of many members of Philadelphia’s black community. Nevertheless, their ideals and their organization continue to exist today, as they express their truth and still fight for their version of a better world, along with justice for their fallen brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and children.