Move 9 member Eddie Goodman Africa released from prison after 41 years

  • Two members of black radical group remain behind bars
  • Lawyer: ‘This is a significant victory and day of celebration’

One of the enduring wounds of the black liberation struggle of the 1970s has moved a step closer to being healed with the release of a fifth member of the so-called Move 9, almost 41 years after their arrest for the collective murder of a police officer.

Eddie Goodman Africa, 69, was released on Friday from Phoenix prison in Pennsylvania, more than a decade after he became eligible for parole. His return to the community reduces to two the number of Move members who remain behind bars, in a creeping resolution to some of the most bloody confrontations between police and black radicals of the 1970s and 1980s.

Two of the nine died in prison. Four had been released in the past year.

Eddie Africa’s decades in prison were the product of a running battle between Philadelphia’s notoriously brutal police force and the Move organization. Move was a hybrid group that combined black liberation radicalism with a form of early environmentalism, each of its members taking the last name Africa to denote that they regarded themselves as one family.

The group was water cannoned, attacked with armored vehicles, bulldozed and ultimately bombed from the air. The Move 9 were arrested on 8 August 1978, following a long siege of their collective home in Philadelphia.

When a gunfight broke out, a police officer, James Ramp, was shot and killed with a single bullet. Yet all nine Move members, including four women, one of whom was heavily pregnant, were held collectively responsible, convicted of third-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years to life.

When the Move 9 were seven years into their prison terms, tragedy befell their peers in Philadelphia. On 13 May 1985, city police wreaked vengeance by dropping an incendiary bomb on to the roof of the group’s house, from a helicopter.

An inferno broke out and was allowed to spread, destroying the Move house and 60 other homes in a largely African American neighborhood. Eleven Move members burned to death, including five children.

Eddie Africa’s release was the result of sustained pressure from his lawyers, who pointed out to the parole board that he had led an exemplary life with his last infraction occurring in March 2004. That incident came about after he resisted prison staff who were trying to force him to cut off his dreadlocks.

He won the argument that he should be allowed to grow his hair on spiritual and cultural grounds. But he was still ticketed for “refusing to obey an order”.

Since then Africa has built a reputation as a mentor for younger, troubled prisoners. He regularly provided advice to younger cellmates, as well as coaching sports teams, leading exercise programs and helping de-escalate conflicts.

“This is a significant victory and day of celebration for us as a legal team, but more importantly for Eddie, his loved ones, and the movement supporting the Move 9,” said Brad Thomson of the People’s Law Office, one of the legal team.

“The parole board’s decision to grant parole to Eddie affirms what the movement in support of the Move 9 has been arguing for decades: that the continued incarceration of the Move 9 is unjust.”

The focus now switches to the final two members of the Move 9 still behind bars: Delbert Orr Africa and Chuck Sims Africa. Delbert’s next parole hearing is scheduled for September; Chuck will be up before the board in December.

Supporters and lawyers are hoping that the recent release of five of the nine will provide a wind of change that will blow the two remaining prisoners into freedom. But it is also likely that as the numbers in incarceration are reduced, resistance to their release from police unions and others will grow in inverse proportion.

Eddie Africa returned to Philadelphia, where all the released Move 9 members have lived peacefully and without any further involvement of law enforcement. He is reunited with his mother, 90, four surviving children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.


Ed Pilkington in New York

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Chuck Sims Africa freed: final jailed Move 9 member released from prison
59-year-old walks free from prison in La Belle, Pennsylvania after being held for more than four decades

Ed Pilkington in New York

07, Feb, 2020 @5:24 PM

Article image
Move 9 member Delbert Orr Africa freed after 42 years in prison
Members of black liberation group given long sentences after 1978 police siege on Philadelphia commune, during which officer died

Ed Pilkington in New York

18, Jan, 2020 @3:38 PM

Article image
Philadelphia city council apologises for deadly 1985 Move bombing
Resolution apologises for ‘enduring harm’ caused by bombing of house occupied by members of black liberation group

Ed Pilkington in New York

13, Nov, 2020 @11:28 PM

Article image
Philadelphia mayor calls for gun control action after officers injured in standoff
Jim Kenney urged state and federal government to stand up to NRA or ‘then let us police ourselves’

Oliver Milman and agencies

15, Aug, 2019 @11:44 AM

Article image
Charges dropped against Philadelphia teen in altercation with police officer
District attorney decided not to pursue charges against Johnnae Pendleton after video showed an officer pummeling her as she lay on the street

Amber Jamieson

04, Jan, 2017 @8:06 PM

Article image
Walter Wallace Jr killing: footage shows 'obvious mental health crisis', lawyer says
Shaka Johnson says body-cam video shows onlookers pleading with Philadelphia police not to shoot Wallace, 27

Miranda Bryant in New York

30, Oct, 2020 @7:58 PM

Article image
'This is huge': black liberationist speaks out after her 40 years in prison
Exclusive: Debbie Sims Africa, the first freed member of a radical Philadelphia group many say were unjustly imprisoned, talks about reuniting with her son and defends the Move members still locked up: ‘We are peaceful people’

Ed Pilkington in New York

18, Jun, 2018 @11:52 AM

Article image
'I'm ecstatic': black liberation prisoner Mike Africa Sr released after 40 years
Member of the radical Philadelphia-based group Move 9, sentenced after violent confrontation with police in 1978, reunited with wife Debbie Africa and son Mike Jr

Ed Pilkington

23, Oct, 2018 @3:29 PM

Article image
Philadelphia holds day of remembrance for 1985 Move bombing that left 11 dead
Occasion overshadowed by disclosure that bones of children who died held for almost four decades by University of Pennsylvania

Ed Pilkington

13, May, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
May Day: thousands across US demand racial justice at rallies for workers' rights
Protesters from New York to Los Angeles combine calls for higher wages and better working conditions with fight against racism and police abuses

Alan Yuhas and Jana Kasperkevic in New York

01, May, 2015 @8:12 PM