When Philadelphia ‘Bombed Itself:’ A Brief History


Joe Piette via flickr Common Use

Last August, people gathered to remember the August 8th 1978 police raid on MOVE and the arrest of the MOVE 9, nine people still in jail for a standoff against police.

Jew'lea Israel, Staff Writer

Two weeks ago today marked the 34th anniversary of when in 1985 Philadelphia was given the title “The city that bombed itself”. At the time this event was ranked as one of the top international news stories, yet most people today don’t really know about it.

On May 13, 1985, Police flew over 6221 Osage Avenue, a residential Philadelphia address and bombed it. This act of hatred killed 11 people, 5 of which were children. Helicopters began circling the row homes before dropping 2 bombs that immediately set the homes in to a blaze.The two survivors of the bombing were, Ramona Africa and Birdie Africa, at the time they fled to the downstairs cellar.

The police blocked the cellar where residents were trying to get their children, pets, and themselves out of the fire. Everytime they attempted to escape or scream at them, the police would open fire.

This event, known as the “MOVE Bombing,” is one of the most overlooked events in black history caused at the hands of the U.S law enforcement.  They bombed 6221 Osage Avenue because it was the residence of the MOVE organization

Founded by John Africa and Donald Glossey in 1972, MOVE was a black lead group who believed in different causes and fought against several diversity issues. Some of their beliefs included black liberation, animal rights, communalism, which is taking ownership over a community, and environmentalism. Members lived in a communal house in West Philadlphia, which often received complaints by neighbors.    

In 1977, the police finally got a warrant to evict the members from Powelton Village but the members refused to leave. They promised they would move and get rid of their weapons if the police released other MOVE members from jail, but after the citydid, the MOVE members still refused to move.

In 1978, the MOVE Organization and the Police stand off came to an end when the police broke into the MOVE organization’s house and a shooting happened and a police officer was shot and killed. Nine MOVE members were sentenced to a maximum of 100 years.
The MOVE organization relocated to 6221 Osage Ave in 1981. It’s neighbors complained about them saying messages through bullhorns day and night.

The police arrived with arrest warrants for four MOVE members, but then another shootout happened. Police officers threw tear gas and used fire hoses, but the members did not give up. That’s when the Philadelphia Police Chief George Sambor ordered the house to be bombed. PPD Lt. Frank Powell dropped two one pound bombs, destroying 65 houses in West Philadelphia.

After this incident, none of the government officials were charged criminally for killing 11 people who lived there in relative peace. Five were children.

This act was in no way justified. Police killed innocent people for the actions of one group of individuals. They could have handled the situation differently. This showed that the police did not care about the other people they might be hurting in the process.

People are still trying to make sense of this bombing. It is an important piece of Philadelphia history that, 34 years later, we should make sure we never forget.