At Reclaim Osage event on May 13, 2023, the anniversary of day the City of Philadelphia bombed the home of the MOVE organization in 1985, supports hold the names of killed MOVE members and children in a silent memorial. Photo credit: Ark Republic/Kaia Shivers

Mike Africa, Jr. reclaims Osage 38 years after the MOVE Massacre

5 mins read

Honoring the promise made to Louise Leaphart James, her nephew buys back the family home that became MOVE headquarters where the City of Philadelphia dropped a bomb while members and their children were inside.

May 13, 1985. The day that the Philadelphia Police dropped C-4 military explosives on 6221 Osage Avenue — the house that was home to the MOVE Family. Eleven people, including five children were consumed in a raging fire that the Philadelphia Fire Department refused to extinguish. A community was destroyed leaving 250 residents homeless due to unrestrained hostility from their city government.

Years later, the homes were rebuilt by the city and given back to the owners who lost their homes in the fire. Given back to everyone but Louise James, owner of the home that was targeted in the bombing. James, a writer, was the sister of John Africa (Vincent Leaphart), who founded MOVE in Philadelphia in the 1970s. MOVE is a revolutionary organization of predominantly Black people that stands against systemic racism, injustice and oppression of all people that promoted environmentalism and animal rights decades before it was popular. James lost her son Frank and her brother in the massacre. She wrote a book on John’s life, “John Africa…Childhood Untold Until Today,” that was published in 2013.

Mike Africa, Jr. promised James before she died that he would get her house back. And he did just that. On Friday, May 12, 2023, 38 years after the massacre, Mike Africa, Jr. stood in front of 6221 Osage Avenue and announced that he purchased the house.

Before the announcement, libation was poured for the 11 MOVE members that were burned alive in the horrific massacre: John Africa, Frank Africa, Teresa Africa, Conrad Africa, Rhonda Africa and Raymond Africa. MOVE children: Tree, Tree’s sister Netta, Deleisha, Little Phil and Tomasa.

Rhonda Africa’s son Birdie and Ramona Africa were burned, but were the only occupants of the house who escaped. Birdie, also known as, Michael Moses Ward, later died at the age of 41. His death was the result of drowning in a hot tub while on a cruise with his father Andino Ward and other family members. Ramona has had a series of health challenges since that day she was pulled from the burning MOVE home, but continues the struggle for justice.

Supporters, a few neighbors and students from the Workshop School cheered as Africa announced the beginning of the “Reclaim Osage” campaign in honor of James. He called the house a “rose that grows from the concrete.”

In 2000, 37 homeowners took a $150,000 buyout from the city. Africa, Jr. said they gave James a check for $60,000 that she considered an insult and never cashed. “My Aunt Louise wanted her house back,” Africa remembered. “She told me: I want my house back. That’s my house. That house belongs to my family. I bought that house with my own money. That house belongs in my family, not the city. That house was mine before MOVE and it’s supposed to be mine after MOVE.”

The home was owned by the city, so Africa, Jr. contacted them about purchasing the home. He was told the house was sold to a developer for a dollar and there was no way it would be sold to him. Africa, Jr. offered a dollar for the home, but was told the city wouldn’t even sell it to him for $300,000. End of story.

A determined young man who worked tirelessly to get his parents Mike Africa, Sr. and Debbie Africa, along with other members of the MOVE 9 out of jail, he didn’t give up. He found an African American realtor, Victor Strong, who worked with him to purchase the home. 

“On May 13, 2022, I got a call from Lance, offering to sell the house,” an excited Africa recalled. “I wanted to go public with the sale, but my realtor told me: No, that’s not the way. Be patient. It’ll come.”

Lance Goodwin had purchased the house in 2021. He lived there for two-and-half years with his wife and daughter. Selling the house to Africa, Jr. was the logical move for the Goodwins, a young African American family.

“My wife and I discussed it,” he explained. “If anybody would be here it would be us. Our commitment to the culture and our commitment to justice are similar to the agenda that the MOVE organization promoted. We always felt that this was their (MOVE) home,”

Goodwin said people would ring their doorbell to ask if they could take pictures of the house, ask about ghost stories, ask how it felt living in the house and of course, the family received nasty phone calls from haters.

“It was an honor to live there. It’s been a beacon of hope and resilience.” Goodwin said he and his family will continue to support Reclaim Osage.

Big photo. Reclaim Osage event on May 13, 2023 honored members killed in the fire. The last living MOVE member survivor Ramona Afrika spoke about the incidents surrounding the City of Philadlephia bombing the house with MOVE members and their children inside. Mike Afrika Jr., the organizer of the event spoke briefly. Alongside him is Gabe Bryant, a local grassroots organizer who attended the event. Top R. Lance Goodwin, the former of owner of the MOVE house sold it to Mike Afrika Jr. who stands with him. Bottom R. Son of Fred Hampton Sr., Fred Hampton Jr. came to the May 12, 2023 press conference in support of the reclamation. Photo credit: Ark Republic/ Kaia Shivers/ Marilyn Kai Jewett

Preserving revolutionary histories

Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr. flew in from Chicago to celebrate with Africa and commemorate the MOVE ancestors who were murdered in the massacre. Hampton told the crowd how he fought to save the childhood home of his father, Fred Hampton, Sr., who was chairman of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. Hampton Sr. was murdered while he slept with his partner, Akua Njeri nè Deborah Johnson, during a raid on his apartment by Chicago Police in 1969. Njeri was pregnant with Hampton, Jr. and over eight months pregnant at the time of the assault.

The “Save The Hampton House” campaign, led by Hampton, Jr. and Njeri, resulted in the Maywood, Illinois home being designated a historic landmark by the Maywood Village Board in 2022. The Hampton House was transformed into a community center with a garden, community refrigerator, activities for youth and a museum where visitors can learn about the legacy of the Black Panther Party.

Hampton congratulated Africa on his triumph. “All due respect [to] Philly, this is international,” Hampton exclaimed. “This is inspiring, concrete tangible history! Everything is political – words, places, locations, and timing. It’s a protracted struggle. Reclaim Osage!”

Africa, Jr. said his plan is to transform the house into a community center focused on health and fitness, activities for the youth and setting a good example. Africa, Jr. put a $43,000 down payment on the property, but still owes a $400,000 mortgage. People who want to help can go to the GoFundMe page to contribute.

Asked what he thought James would think about the purchase of her home as she asked, Africa, Jr. replied, “She’s jumping 10 feet in the air and she’s hugging me with the memories that we both had together, that I use as my guidance to push forward. That’s what it’s all about. The house is about honoring the memory of Louise James and making sure that we never forget what happened here 38 years ago. It’s about community and setting a good example.”

Marilyn Kai Jewett is a veteran journalist reporting and living in the Philadelphia metro. Her interests are culture, business and politics.

Marilyn Kai Jewett was born and raised in Strawberry Mansion/Germantown and has lived in Cheltenham Village since 2001. Most of her work over the last 30 years has been with North Philly organizations, people and pols. As a reporter with the Philadelphia New Observer for 11 years she covered business, politics and culture. That's still her interest.

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