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Ramona Africa papers

Identifier: 489

Scope and Contents

The Ramona Africa papers document the 1985 bombing of the headquarters of the Black liberation organization MOVE by the city of Philadelphia and the litigation that followed. The collection highlights local African American activism in Philadelphia, police brutality, and state terrorism. The collection encompasses 3.4 linear feet of correspondence, court transcripts, reports, newspapers, photographs, ephemera, and interview summaries. The predominant dates of the papers are from 1985-1986 and cover Africa's participation in MOVE, her role in the MOVE incident of 1985, the trial that resulted from it, and the subsequent governmental commission that was formed to investigate the 1985 confrontation.


  • Created: 1985-1996
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1985-1986
  • Other: Date acquired: 11/07/1995


Conditions Governing Access

The Ramona Africa papers are open and available for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.

Biographical Note

Ramona Africa, activist and speaker, was a committed participant of MOVE, a Philadelphia based Black liberation group founded in 1972 by the charismatic John Africa. MOVE's teachings focused on a "naturalistic" lifestyle that included shunning technological advances such as electricity, heat and running water. John Africa preached a heavy respect for life and condemned the murder of any type of life form. MOVE focused on fighting systemic exploitation and frequently protested against animal rights abuses, police harassment, and Philadelphia's city and educational officials.

Ramona Africa was born around 1955 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was raised by her mother in a middle class household. She attended Catholic school from grades 1-12 and majored in Pre-Law at Temple University. She graduated with a double degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice. Ramona Africa attended a MOVE demonstration on May 20, 1977, where she initially held a strong dislike of the organization. Ramona listened to the different speakers of the group and was moved by their family stories and their self-defensive armed stance against the police. It was their courage in the face of Philadelphia's police department that changed Africa's negative opinion of the group, which she acknowledged had been shaped by the local media.

In 1979, while a senior at Temple University, Africa was arrested during a housing protest at a Philadelphia City Council meeting. It was at her court hearing that she met a MOVE member who invited her to a gathering for the organization. Afterwards, Africa began attending more MOVE meetings although she was not a full member. She eventually began going to the court hearings of MOVE members who were arrested during a 1978 confrontation with the police. A court official charged Africa with being in contempt at a MOVE trial and, during her court appearance for this transgression, she was convicted and sent to jail for 60 days by Judge Lynn Abraham. Africa spent additional time with MOVE women during her sentence and decided to become a MOVE member after her time served. She married another MOVE member named Charles Sims Africa and the year of their marriage is unknown.

Ramona Africa was one of two survivors, the other being Birdie Africa, of the 1985 bombing of MOVE headquarters by the city of Philadelphia that resulted in 11 deaths, five of whom were children, and the burning of 65 houses. The confrontation was the culmination of 12 years of activity on the part of MOVE. The first being years of increasing trouble with police and neighbors in the Powelton area of West Philadelphia that ended in a gun battle in August 1978 in which one policeman was killed and nine MOVE members arrested and eventually sentenced to jail terms. A number of the remaining MOVE members, all of whom were black, settled in 1982 and 1983 in a house on the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in the Cobbs Creek area, a predominately middle class black neighborhood. They began to campaign for the release of their comrades and in May 1984 started day and night denunciations of their enemies through a loudspeaker.

In October, MOVE began the construction of a bunker on the top of their residence. The loudspeaker and the extremely unsanitary life style of the MOVE members led their neighbors to demand action from the newly installed Wilson Goode city administration. After a year of vacillation and appeasement, the city finally determined in the Spring of 1985 on a plan to evict MOVE members and arrest several of them. The attack early on May 13, 1985, became disastrously chaotic, as 10,000 rounds of ammunition, tear gas and explosives failed to break down the heavily fortified MOVE house. The Police bomb unit dropped explosives on the house and an ensuing fire burned the MOVE home and spread to four city blocks surrounding the residence. When the full damage was assessed the next day, it was found that 11 people had died in the MOVE house from the resulting fire, 6 adults and five children, and 250 neighborhood residents left homeless from the incident.

Africa refused to testify at the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission that was formed in May of 1985 to examine the incident and provide their findings to the public. She served seven years in prison on riot charges stemming from the 1985 confrontation. In 1996, she successfully sued the City of Philadelphia and was awarded $500,000 for pain, suffering, and injuries related to the 1985 incident.


3.34 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

The Ramona Africa papers have been arranged into four series: Commonwealth v. Ramona Africa, Philadelphia Commission Records & MOVE Investigative Reports, Ramona Africa Lawsuit, and MOVE organizational documents. Within each series, materials are arranged alphabetically by document type and then chronologically.

Technical Access Requirements

Audiovisual items are located offsite. Please contact Reference Services Department at 504-862-3222 for inquiries.

Source of Acquisition

Ramona Africa

Method of Acquisition


Related Materials

The complete Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission Records, which document the MOVE incident of 1985, are located at Temple University.

Processing Information

The processing of the papers of Ramona Africa was completed in February 2015.

Ramona Africa papers
Chianta Dorsey
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Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222