The MOVE Massacre

On Mother’s Day, May 13, 1985, American police units used an unprecedented tactic ona group it sought for arrest: an aerial bombing. This year marksthe 31st anniversary ofthat assault on Osage Avenue. Eleven people including five children ages 7 to 13were killed in the bombing.  

There were nearly 500 police officers gathered at the scene, ferociously well-armed — flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun for good measure. Deluge guns were pointed from fire trucks. The state police had sent a helicopter. The city had shut off the water and electricity for the entire block., atone point allowing thefire to rage. The police admit to shooting over 10,000 rounds of bullets at the house in the first 90 minutes of the siege.


MOVE was a Philadelphia-based radical movement dedicated to Black liberation and a back-to-nature lifestyle. It was founded by John Africa, and all its members took on the surname Africa. In 1981 the group MOVE had relocated itself into a row house in West Philadelphia. MOVE soon faced complaints from neighbors about its political activities, which included loudly airing political messages during all times of the day

But the sole adult survivor of the massacre, Ramona Afrika, makes it clear that was not the reason for that bombing did not happen because of some complaints from neighbors,” she said during an NPR interview. “This government had never cared about Black folks complaining about their neighbors or any other people complaining about their neighbors. They bombed us because of our unrelenting fight for our family members, known as the MOVE 9, who have been in prison unjustly going on thirty-two years now, as a result of the August 8th, 1978 police attack on MOVE.”

Political prisoner MUMIA ABU-JAMAL stated: “May 13th, 1985 is more than a day of infamy, when a city waged war on its own alleged citizens, but also when the city committed massacre and did so with perfect impunity, when babies were shot and burned alive with their mothers and fathers, and the killers rewarded with honors and pensions, while politicians talkedthe media mediated mass murder. ...Eleven men, women and children died, and not one killer was even charged with a misdemeanor. 

The bomb set off a fire that quickly spread. In addition to killing 11 MOVE men, women and children, the fires eventually burning down 61 homes,  leaving 250 people homeless. 

Philadelphia is tactually he second American city to use explosives on its own constituents and became known as “The City That Bombed Itself”. The first was in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31st, 1921, when police dropped dynamite on the flourishing Black neighborhood of Greenwood, also known as “The Black Wall Street,” afterwards re-zoning it to make way for a railroad.