Political activist speaks at SIUC

By Gus Bode

a href=”https://www.dailyegyptian.com/contactus.html”bDE Staff Reporter/b/abrspan class=”realsmall”bDaily Egyptian/b/span

Ramona Africa recounts the police conflict of May13, 1985

Fire hoses, firepower, and incarceration in a U.S. prison have not dimmed the hope of political activist Ramona Africa, who was imprisoned for seven years on charges of conspiracy, riot and assault.


As a member of MOVE, a social group committed to equality, Africa survived a C-4 bomb dropped on the organization’s Philadelphia headquarters in 1985. Firefighters aimed hoses at the building and armed police officers surrounded the building.

This was the story Africa told to about 60 SIUC students and community members Tuesday evening at the fourth-floor video lounge in the Student Center. Standing a little taller than five feet with dreadlocks that reached past her waist, Africa recounted the May 13, 1985 attack by the FBI and Philadelphia police and shared her views on violence, terrorism and equality.

She stepped up to the podium, standing only slightly over the microphone. Then out of her small frame came a booming voice. The room filled with her words and the attendees took notice.

Africa, a member of MOVE for several years, had experienced conflict with the city government of Philadelphia and U.S. Justice Department. She described how members of MOVE had been beaten to the point where bones were fractured and they even lost their lives. This, Africa said, was how the law had failed them.

MOVE, an organization started by John Africa in the early 1970s, was born out of the need to have a strong community solely dependent upon itself for sustenance and prosperity. With a simple lifestyle of manual labor, its members adopted the last name “Africa” to symbolize the principled unity they intended to show to the rest of the world.

John Africa sought to build an organization that viewed equality through a wider lens, she said. Their membership was not racially biased, but instead inclusive of all ethnic groups.

For MOVE, protecting the world’s inhabitants meant protecting animals, air and water. The group protested Dupont and furriers, challenging them to stop killing animals.


MOVE purchased a large home in the west Philadelphia region. Members immediately began to seek out those who were violating MOVE’s ideals.

Africa said the mainstream media began to paint a picture of the organization as militant and uncompromising in its beliefs. Eventually, police took notice of the group’s actions and started following MOVE members watching their every step, she said.

In a 1978 incident, an officer was shot in front of MOVE headquarters, an event that escalated into the arrests of nine members of the organization. Members denied their involvement with the shooting, stating that the officer was shot from above.

Members of MOVE were held in jail without proper evidence and the required counsel, according to Africa. They were charged with conspiracy and ultimately sentenced to 30 to 100 years apiece. Africa continues to make efforts for their release.

After the heated confrontations between the organization and the city, the events culminated in front of MOVE headquarters when the police, FBI and fire department attempted to serve four MOVE members with warrants. One of those members was Ramona Africa.

“The fire department was there, but not to put out a fire”, Africa said.

Instead, the hoses trained on the building, smashed windows, and broke down walls attempting to force its inhabitants outside, she said. After the water stopped, the bullets started, with police using about 10,000 rounds of ammunition on the building, Ramona said.

Helicopters circled the house and dropped two C-4 explosives on the top of the building creating an explosion and a fire, which fire fighters did not put out, she said. The fire burned 11 MOVE members alive and continued to burn other homes on the block, resulting in the decimation of 61 buildings.

Ramona Africa made the analogy that MOVE members are treated as urban terrorists, a strong contrast to the founding fathers who fought the British redcoats.

” Legal and right are not the same thing,” she said, “Either stand-up for what is right or just is to be commended and celebrated or it is to be condemned and penalized.

“They went to war with cops called ‘ redcoats’ who defied legality and went to war with the government. I don’t overlook the fact that every Fourth of July these people are celebrated — not punished, not degraded. They are celebrated as heroes, as freedom fighters.”

The event was sponsored by the Black History Month Committee. Pamela Smoot, chair of the committee and a professor of Black American Studies, said they asked Africa to speak because of expressed student interest.

Moustafa Ayad can be reached at [email protected]