1985 MOVE bombing

The 1985 MOVE bombing was the destruction by the Philadelphia Police Department of 61 residential homes in the West Philadelphia Osage Neighborhood during a standoff and firefight. One of the residential homes was occupied by the MOVE organization. Two explosive devices were dropped by a police helicopter on a bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house, causing a fire which the Philadelphia Fire Department subsequently let burn out of control, destroying 61 previously evacuated neighbouring houses over two city blocks, and leaving 250 people homeless.[1] Six adults and five children in the MOVE compound died in the incident, with one adult and one child surviving. A lawsuit in federal court found that the city used excessive force and violated constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.[2]

1985 MOVE bombing
1985 MOVE bombing is located in Philadelphia
1985 MOVE bombing
Location6221 Osage Ave, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Coordinates39°57′20″N 75°14′49″W / 39.955679°N 75.246836°W / 39.955679; -75.246836Coordinates: 39°57′20″N 75°14′49″W / 39.955679°N 75.246836°W / 39.955679; -75.246836
DateMay 13, 1985; 37 years ago (1985-05-13)
TargetMOVE members
Attack type
Airstrike with improvised explosive device
PerpetratorsPhiladelphia Police Department


In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house at 6221 Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area of West Philadelphia. Neighbors complained to the city for years about trash around their building, confrontations with neighbors, and bullhorn announcements of political messages by MOVE members.[3][4] The bullhorn was broken and inoperable for the three weeks prior to the police bombing of the row house.[4]

The police obtained arrest warrants in 1985 charging four MOVE occupants with crimes including parole violations, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terroristic threats.[5] Mayor Wilson Goode and police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor classified MOVE as a terrorist organization.[6] Police evacuated residents of the area from the neighborhood prior to their action. Residents were told that they would be able to return to their homes after a 24-hour period.[7]


On Monday, May 13, 1985, nearly 500 police officers, along with city manager Leo Brooks, arrived in force and attempted to clear the building and execute the arrest warrants.[7][6] Water and electricity were shut off in order to force MOVE members out of the house. Commissioner Sambor read a long speech addressed to MOVE members that started with, "Attention MOVE: This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States." When the MOVE members did not respond, the police decided to forcibly remove the people who remained in house,[7] which consisted of seven adults and six children.[8]

There was an armed standoff with police,[9] who threw tear gas canisters at the building. The MOVE members fired at them, and a gunfight with semi-automatic and automatic firearms ensued.[10] Police used more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition before Commissioner Sambor ordered that the compound be bombed.[10] From a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, Philadelphia Police Department Lt. Frank Powell proceeded to drop two 1.5-pound (0.75 kg) bombs (which the police referred to as "entry devices"[6]) made of Tovex, a dynamite substitute, combined with two pounds of FBI-supplied C-4,[11] targeting a fortified, bunker-like cubicle on the roof of the house.[3]

The ensuing fire killed 11 of the people in the house, six adults and five children: John Africa, Rhonda Africa, Theresa Africa, Frank Africa, Conrad Africa, Tree Africa, Delisha Africa, Netta Africa, Little Phil Africa, Tomaso Africa, and Raymond Africa.[12] Ramona Africa, one of the two MOVE survivors from the house, said that police fired at those trying to escape.[13]


Mayor Goode appointed an investigative commission called the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission (PSIC, aka MOVE Commission), chaired by William H. Brown, III. Commissioner Sambor resigned in November 1985; in a speech the following year, he said that he was made a "surrogate" by Goode.[14]

The MOVE Commission issued its report on March 6, 1986. The report denounced the actions of the city government, stating that dropping a bomb on an occupied row house was unconscionable.[15] Following the release of the report, Goode made a formal public apology.[16] No one from the city government was criminally charged in the attack. The only surviving adult MOVE member, Ramona Africa, refused to testify in court and was charged and convicted on charges of riot and conspiracy; she served seven years in prison.[17]

Three lawsuits were filed against the city of Philadelphia including Louise James, administrator of the estate of Frank James in 1994; Ramona Africa in 1996; and Alfonso Leaphart, administrator of the estate of Vincent Leaphart.

A lawsuit appealing a judgment against the police and public officials was filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on November 3, 1994 Africa v. City of Philadelphia (In re City of Philadelphia Litig.), 49 F.3d 945 (1995) and was decided on March 6, 1995. The court decided that the plaintiffs did not have a Fourth Amendment claim against the city because there was no seizure when the defendants dropped explosives in the plaintiffs buildings, city officials and police officers had qualified immunity under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, but the city did not have qualified immunity from liability despite its officials being exempt.[18]

In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city to pay a $1.5 million civil suit judgment to survivor Ramona Africa and relatives of two people killed in the bombing. The jury had found that the city used excessive force and violated the members' constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. Ramona was awarded $500,000 for the pain, suffering and physical harm suffered in the fire.[2] In 1985, Philadelphia was given the sobriquet "The City that Bombed Itself".[19][20]

In 2005, federal judge Clarence Charles Newcomer presided over a civil trial brought by residents seeking damages for having been displaced by the widespread destruction following the 1985 police bombing of MOVE. A jury awarded them a $12.83 million verdict against the City of Philadelphia.[21]

In November 2020, the Philadelphia City Council approved a resolution to formally apologize for the MOVE bombing. The measure also established an annual day of "observation, reflection and recommitment" on May 13, the anniversary of the bombing.[22][23]

Use of human remains from the bombingsEdit

Since the bombing, the bones of two children, 14-year-old Tree and 12-year-old Delisha, were kept at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. In 2021, WHYY-TV's Billy Penn revealed that according to the museum, the remains had been transferred to researchers at Princeton University, though the university was unaware of their exact whereabouts. The remains had been used by Janet Monge, an adjunct professor in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor in the same subject at Princeton University, in videos for an online forensics course named “Real Bones: Adventures in Forensic Anthropology,” as case studies.[24] Present-day MOVE members were shocked to learn this, with Mike Africa Jr. stating "They were bombed, and burned alive ... and now you wanna keep their bones."[25]

The city stated the remains had gone unclaimed by the families after the bombing,[26] but in May 2021, the city of Philadelphia's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, resigned under pressure after it was revealed that in 2017 he ordered the cremation and disposal of victims' remains without either identifying them or contacting members of the family.[27] A day after Farley's resignation staff at the Medical Examiner's Office found the box labeled "MOVE" in a refrigerated area of their office containing the un-cremated remains. As of 2021, Mike Africa Jr. stated that the Africa family have not yet decided what to do with the remains.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hall, Gray (2020-05-13). "11 Philadelphia City Council members issue apology on 35th anniversary of MOVE bombing". 6abc Philadelphia. Archived from the original on 2021-05-07. Retrieved 2021-05-07.
  2. ^ a b Terry, Don (June 25, 1996). "Philadelphia Held Liable For Firebomb Fatal to 11". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2021-05-24. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Frank Trippett (May 27, 1985). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME magazine. Archived from the original on 2017-03-15. Retrieved 2009-02-15. The Move property on Osage Avenue had become notorious for its abundant litter of garbage and human waste and for its scurrying rats and dozens of dogs. Bullhorns blared forth obscene tirades and harangues at all times of day and night. MOVE members customarily kept their children out of both clothes and school. They physically assaulted some neighbors and threatened others.
  4. ^ a b Abu-Jamal, Mumia; Bin Wahad, Dhoruba; Shakur, Assata (1993). Still Black, Still Strong. South Pasadena, CA: Semiotext(e). p. 128. ISBN 9780936756745.
  5. ^ Trippett, Frank (1985-05-27). "It Looks Just Like a War Zone". TIME. Archived from the original on 2017-03-15. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  6. ^ a b c Shapiro, Michael J (June 17, 2010). The Time of the City: Politics, Philosophy and Genre. Routledge. p. 108. ISBN 9781136977879.
  7. ^ a b c Demby, Gene (May 13, 2015). "I'm from Philly 30 years later I'm still trying to make sense of the MOVE bombing". NPR. Archived from the original on May 24, 2021. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Fagone, Jason (2014-02-27). "Birdie Africa: The Lost Boy". City Live. Archived from the original on 2021-05-16. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
  9. ^ Account of 1985 incident from USA Today Archived 2012-07-02 at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ a b Stevens, William K. (14 May 1985). "Police Drop Bomb on Radicals' Home in Philadelphia". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 November 2020. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
  11. ^ Evans, Richard Kent (2020-06-01). MOVE: An American Religion. Oxford University Press. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-19-005878-4.
  12. ^ "On the anniversary of MOVE bombing, fresh pain and calls for accountability on Osage Avenue". Archived from the original on 2021-05-14. Retrieved 2021-05-14.
  13. ^ "Philadelphia MOVE Bombing Still Haunts Survivors". NPR. Archived from the original on 2013-06-20. Retrieved 2013-05-14.
  14. ^ Call, SCOTT J. HIGHAM, The Morning. "I WAS EXPENDABLE, SAMBOR LEARNED AFTER MOVE FIASCO". mcall.com. Archived from the original on 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  15. ^ "Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Manuscript Collection". Archived from the original on 2009-01-11. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  16. ^ Times, WILLIAM K. STEVENS, The New York. "GOODE OFFERS HIS APOLOGY FOR MOVE". mcall.com. Archived from the original on 2020-09-19. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  17. ^ Odom, Maida. "Ramona Africa Given Jail Term For Siege Role". philly.com. Archived from the original on 3 June 2016. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  18. ^ "FindLaw's United States Third Circuit case and opinions". Findlaw. 2020-06-03. Retrieved 2021-12-25.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  19. ^ G. Shaffer; C. Tiger; D. L. Root (2008). Compass American Guides Pennsylvania.
  20. ^ Larry Eichel (May 8, 2005). "The MOVE Disaster: May 13, 1985". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 14, 2020. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  21. ^ Douglas Martin (August 28, 2005). "CLARENCE NEWCOMER, 82, LONGTIME FEDERAL JUDGE," Archived 2020-06-03 at the Wayback Machine South Florida Sun Sentinel.
  22. ^ Pilkington, Ed (2020-11-13). "Philadelphia city council apologises for deadly 1985 Move bombing". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2020-11-14. Retrieved 2020-11-14.
  23. ^ Ismay, John (2020-11-13). "35 Years After MOVE Bombing That Killed 11, Philadelphia Apologizes". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2020-11-14. Retrieved 2020-11-14.
  24. ^ "Bones of Black children killed in police bombing used in Ivy League anthropology course". the Guardian. 2021-04-23. Archived from the original on 2021-04-23. Retrieved 2021-04-23.
  25. ^ "Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades". Billy Penn. Archived from the original on 2021-05-16. Retrieved 2021-05-24.
  26. ^ Kassutto, Maya (April 21, 2021). "Remains of children killed in MOVE bombing sat in a box at Penn Museum for decades". Billy Penn. WHYY-TV. Archived from the original on April 21, 2021. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  27. ^ Goodin-Smith, Laura McCrystal, Aubrey Whelan and Oona (2021-05-15). "Philly health commissioner resigns over cremating MOVE victims without telling family; Kenney apologizes". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2021-05-13. Retrieved 2021-05-14.
  28. ^ Levenson, Michael (2021-05-15). "Discovery of Bones From MOVE Bombing Jolts Philadelphia Once Again". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 2021-05-15. Retrieved 2021-05-15.