A Brief History of MOVE

MOVE: Not an acronym, the name MOVE simply expresses its members' belief that life is movement; that all things exist 'on the move'. -- Mumia Abu-Jamal

MOVE is a family of revolutionaries, of naturalist revolutionaries, founded in Philadelphia in the late sixties/early seventies, who oppose all that this system represents. -- Mumia Abu-Jamal

If our profanity offends you, look around you and see how destructively society is profaning itself. It is the rape of the land, the pollution of the environment, the betrayal and suffering of the masses by corrupt government that is the real obscenity. -- MOVE

What I found were idealistic, committed, strong, unshakeable men and women who had a deep spirit-level aversion to everything this system represents. To them, this system was a death system involved in a deathly war. To them, everything this system radiated was poison - from its technological waste to its destruction of the earth, to its destruction of the air and water, to its destruction of the very genetic pool of human life and animal life and all life. MOVE opposed all this bitterly and unrelentingly, without compromise. -- Mumia Abu-Jamal

We told the cops there wasn't gonna be anymore undercover deaths. This time they better be prepared to murder us in full public view, cause if they came at us with fists, we were gonna come back with fists. If they came with clubs, we'd come back with clubs, and if they came with guns, we'd use guns, too. We don't believe in death-dealing guns, we believe in life. But we knew the cops wouldn't be so quick to attack us if they had to face the same stuff they dished out so casually on unarmed defenceless folk. -- MOVE

As long as we are alive, we will never abandon our innocent brothers and sisters in jail, and they know we will never abandon them, and this city gonna always have a problem until every last one of our brothers and sisters is home. -- MOVE

MOVE is a group of Black radicals that coalesced around the spiritual leader and teacher John Africa. All took the surname Africa.

Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Untrained, untaught, and untamed, John Africa attracted a wide range of people to a small room in West Philadelphia, men and women who had one thing in common: need .... In a sense, all of them sought that most illusive of quarries - Truth.

Mumia Abu-Jamal:

John Africa was a man blessed with shimmering wisdom, enormous patience, and powerful passions. He did what healers do: he healed. He did what teachers do: he taught. He did what carpenters do: he built. Using neither nails nor lumber, he constructed from the fabric of the heart a tightly knit, cohesive body of brothers and sisters called MOVE.


MOVE's work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life. The purpose of John Africa's revolution is to show people through John Africa's teaching, the truth, that this system is the cause of all their problems (alcoholism, drug addiction, unemployment, wife abuse, child pornography, every problem in the world) and to set the example of revolution for people to follow when they realize how they've been oppressed, repressed, duped, tricked by this system, this government and see the need to rid themselves of this cancerous system as MOVE does.

Their philosophy is a mix of Christianity and Deep Ecology, their activism a mix of Black Radicalism and Earth First!

Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Faith simply means belief ... MOVE members talked about it uncompromisingly, and not just talked about it, but lived it every day ... If you're Christian, you talk about Sunday. That's your religion: Sunday you go to church, Monday you do your thing. And the next Sunday you go back to church, and the next Monday you do your own thing again ... To MOVE, all days are holy days, because all life is holy. When you're out fighting for your brothers and sisters, you're practising your religion. Faith means what you truly, absolutely believe. If you ask a MOVE person, 'What is you're religion?', he'll say 'life.'

Mumia Abu-Jamal:

Today you have groups like Earth First and so forth, across the world, who embrace many of those same positions that were once called bizarre. MOVE did it twenty years ago.

Unlike Earth First!, MOVE are prepared to arm themselves and use those arms, but only in self-defence, and only following years of harassment and brutality from the corrupt city authorities in Philadelphia, and only after several of their members, including women and children, had been killed by the Police.

During the early 1970s MOVE was based in the Powelton Village area of West Philadelphia (309 N. 33rd St.). Members enjoyed hard physical work and were often seen chopping firewood, running dogs, shovelling snow or sweeping the street. MOVE ran a popular car wash at this location, helped homeless people find places to live, assisted the elderly with home repairs, intervened in violence between local gangs and college fraternities, and helped incarcerated offenders meet parole requirements through a rehabilitation program. After adopting MOVE's way of natural living, many individuals overcame past problems of drug addiction, physical disabilities, infertility and alcoholism. MOVE welcomed dissenting views as an opportunity to showcase their belief and sharpen their oratory skills which they knew would be tested in their revolutionary struggle.

It was during this period that MOVE widened their activities across the City. Other groups and neighbourhoods sought their help, and MOVE put their expertise to work in helping to organise demos, initiate law suits etc. MOVE's activities came to the attention of and brought themselves into conflict with the City's three main centres of power - the media, the city authorities and the police. The media distorted and misreported what they were doing, the policed launched brutal attacks aided and abetted by the corrupt city authorities.

Centre stage was Frank Rizzo, Police Commissioner from 1967-71, later Mayor. Frank Rizzo built his reputation on being tough with Blacks. His police force had a national reputation for corruption and brutality.

By the mid-70s MOVE became increasingly more militant. The trigger point was the killing of baby Life Africa by the police.

Janine Africa's baby, Life Africa, was born 8 March 1976 but murdered by the police less than a month later, when his mother was grabbed by a cop, thrown to the ground with 3 week old Life Africa in her arms and stomped on until she was nearly unconscious. The baby's skull was crushed. Police denied that the baby existed because there was no birth certificate.

20 May 1977, MOVE staged a major demonstration demanding the release of their political prisoners and an end to the violent harassment by the City. To keep an increasingly brutal police force at bay, MOVE appeared outside their own house with firearms - semi-automatic weapons, shotguns. Blacks arming themselves, Niggas with guns! The City went ballistic. It was as though New Age Travellers in Cornwall were arming themselves with Uzis, or Newbury Road Protesters with Kalashnikovs.


We are tired of being beaten, bones broken, and murdered babies. No longer will this system attack us with impunity. From now on, we will defend ourselves.

Mayor Rizzo responded with the order 'starve em out'. The area surrounding the MOVE house was sealed off. Sniper posts were established. The stand-off lasted for months. At one point MOVE agreed to allow their house to be swept with a metal detector. It came back with the result clean. The only weapons found were inoperative ones. This gave Rizzo the courage he needed to launch a full scale attack on the house.

8 August 1978, a full scale assault took place on the house. MOVE members took refuge in the basement. When this was realised, the basement was flooded. Young children and animals had to be held aloft to stop them drowning. A single shot hit Officer James Ramp in the back and killed him. According to reporter Paul Bennet, the shot came from across the street. All hell then broke lose as the Police fired into the house. Live TV showed Delbert Africa being beaten into near unconsciousness. No weapons were found in the hands of MOVE members. 10 MOVE members were charged with murder.

At an angry press conference later in the afternoon reporter Bill Baldini, who asked about the beatings, was killed a liar. In response to a question from a reporter, Rizzo lashed out: 'They believe what you write, and what you say, and it's got to stop. And one day, and I hope it's in my career, that you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.' The reporter who questioned the police actions was Mumia Abu-Jamal, now on death row on trumped up charges of killing a police officer. Police Commissioner Joseph O'Neill said Officer Ramp was killed by a shot in the back. Moments later a typed police press release was distributed stating that Ramp was shot in the chest. Rizzo displayed a table of firearms and claimed they were taken from the MOVE house. Some reporters noted the seemingly new condition of the weapons; others wondered what these guns were doing in the mayor's office rather than impounded in the police crime lab as evidence. No MOVE fingerprints were found on any of these weapons.

The MOVE house was destroyed, even though destroying evidence from the scene of a crime is in itself a criminal offence.

Defendants who renounced MOVE were released without charge. The MOVE 9 were found guilty of the murder of James Ramp, even though James Ramp was out in the street facing the house, was killed by a bullet shot from the back, and all 9 defendants were holed up in the cellar when the fatal shot was fired. After Judge Malmed pronounced the nine defendants guilty of the murder and sentenced each one to 30-100 years he appeared on a radio chat show a few days later. A caller, Mumia Abu-Jamal, asked Judge Malmed, 'Who shot James Ramp?', he replied, 'I haven't the faintest idea.' Judge Malmed went on to say 'they were tried as a family, so I convicted them as a family', or in other words, MOVE were found guilty for being MOVE.

MOVE concentrated their efforts on freeing the MOVE 9, who were being brutalised in prison.

1984, anticipating how far the City would go to silence them, MOVE began fortifying their rowhouse at 6221 Osage Avenue (Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia). At the same time, the Police made preparations for a murderous assault by illegally obtaining C-4 plastic explosive and assault weapons. Between June and October, Alfonso Africa was arrested and beaten bloody several times by police. 8 August 1984, hundreds of police and firemen surrounded the Osage block in a dress rehearsal for the final assault.

12 May 1985, police evacuated the 6200 Block of Osage Avenue and towed away parked cars.

Monday 13 May 1985, police and firemen launched a full scale military assault on the MOVE rowhouse using tear gas, water cannons, shotguns, Uzis, M-16s, silenced weapons, Browning Automatic Rifles, M-60 machine guns, a 20 mm anti-tank gun, and a .50-caliber machine gun. Many of these weapons had been illegally obtained. Between 6:00 and 7:30 am police fired over 10,000 rounds of ammunition into the house knowing there were women and children inside. They also tried to blast through the walls with C-4 explosives. When none of these measures succeeded in driving MOVE from the house, a state police helicopter was used to drop a fire-bomb on the roof. This started a fire that officials deliberately allowed to burn for 10-12 hours, burning down the entire block, some 62 homes were destroyed. MOVE members repeatedly tried to leave the house but were met with police gunfire which killed some of the adults and children in the alley behind the house. Eleven members of MOVE were killed (six adults and five children).

MOVE petitioned the court to indict the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and others for murder in the fourth degree. Their petition was denied. The petition was denied by Judge Sabo. Judge Sabo the 'hanging judge', who has put more people on death row than any other sitting judge in the United States, who as DA obtained the murder conviction of an innocent man (Commonwealth v Connor), an innocent man who served twelve years for a crime he didn't commit, who presided over the murder trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal and sent him to death row, who heard the appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal and decided there had been no miscarriage of justice in the original trial.

The MOVE 9 remain imprisoned by the State. Delbert, Carlos and Chuck Africa were kept in solitary confinement for over five years for refusing to violate MOVE belief by cutting their hair. At Muncy prison, MOVE women upheld their religious principles by refusing to give blood samples and were repeatedly put in solitary confinement, sometimes for as long as 3 years. Sadistic prison guards took great pleasure in informing Delbert, Janet, Sue, Phil, Janine and Consuewella Africa that some of their children were killed in the police assault on Osage Avenue (13 May 1985).

MOVE has never dropped a bomb, burned down a neighbourhood or killed anyone, they have only demanded the release of innocent members. The City of Philadelphia has killed 17 MOVE members, including adults, children, 1 baby and 4 miscarriages.

Mumia Abu-Jamal:

I have seen every substantive so-called Constitutional right twisted, shredded and torn when it comes to MOVE. Since the early 1970's I've seen male and female MOVE members beaten 'till bloody and bones broken, locked beneath the jails, caged while pregnant, beaten into miscarriage, starved by municipal decree, sentenced to a century in prisons, homes demolished by bomb, by crane, by cannon, by fire. But I've never seen them broken.

The Romans and their collaborators the Jews persecuted the early Christians, in Europe in the Middle Ages Christians persecuted Jews, during the Inquisition the Catholic Church persecuted heretics, in the US the State persecutes MOVE.


Mumia Abu-Jamal, Live From Death Row, Avon Paperbacks, 1996

Mumia Abu-Jamal, Death Blossoms: Reflections of a Prisoner of Conscience, Plough Publishing House, 1997

Mumia Abu-Jamal, All Things Censored {16 censored radio commentaries, 74 min CD}

Nick Cohen, Corporate hostility, The Observer, 23 April 2000

Karl Evanzz, The Judas Factor, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1992 [Nia, 1998]

Mark Lane & Dick Gregory, Murder in Memphis: The FBI and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993

MOVE, 20 Years on the MOVE, MOVE, 1996

Kenneth O'Reilly, Black Americans: The FBI, Carroll & Graf, 1994

Keith Parkins, Intelligence Services Unaccountable and Out of Control?, January 1999

Keith Parkins, Mumia Abu-Jamal, August 1999

For this brief history I have drawn heavily on an essay 'John Africa's Organization' by Sis Marpessa Kupendua (which is itself a summary of 20 Years on the MOVE) and on the writings and radio commentaries of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Gaia index ~ Mumia Abu-Jamal
(c) Keith Parkins 1999-2000 -- April 2000 rev 1