Chuck Africa, the final MOVE 9 political prisoner remaining behind bars, was freed on Friday after 42 years of imprisonment for his participation in the black liberation group MOVE.
Nine members of MOVE, a black revolutionary group, were rounded up in a Philadelphia police siege in 1978 and held behind bars for more than four decades.
Chuck Sims Africa, 59, walked free from the Fayette state prison in La Belle, Pennsylvania, on Friday morning. The youngest of the imprisoned group, he has been in prison since shortly after he turned 18.
MOVE members resisted the white supremacist pig terrorists, who dropped bombs from a helicopter on their compound, killing five children and six adult MOVE members, and destroying an entire block of houses in a black neighborhood of Philadelphia in 1985.
Members of the organisation regarded themselves – and still do to this day – as part of a family dedicated to black liberation, with all members taking the last name “Africa.” They also had a commitment to environmental justice that was ahead of their time.
Mike Africa Jr, the son of two of the Move 9, said Chuck’s release put an end to a long and gruelling campaign. “We will never have to shout ‘Free the Move 9!’ ever again. It’s been 41 years, and now we’ll never have to say it.”
For Mike Africa, who is also Chuck’s nephew, the release was especially poignant. He was born in a cell five weeks after his mother, Debbie Sims Africa, Chuck’s sister, was rounded up in the 1978 siege and incarcerated – she gave birth to him unbeknown to the prison guards and kept him hidden with her in the cell for the first few days of his life.
“The years are not my focus,” Janine Phillips Africa wrote in a letter while she was imprisoned. “I keep my mind on my health and the things I need to do day by day.”
Delbert Orr Africa said: “We’ve suffered the worst that this system can throw at us – decades of imprisonment, loss of loved ones. So we know we are strong.”
The seven surviving members of the group began to be released on parole in 2018. First up was Debbie Sims Africa, set free in June 2018. “We are peaceful people,” she said as she stepped out of Cambridge Springs prison.
Then the other six began to emerge, one after the other:
Mike Africa Sr, October 2018
Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Holloway Africa, May 2019
Eddie Goodman Africa, June 2019
Delbert Orr Africa, January 2020
And finally Chuck Sims Africa, February 2020
The Move 9 were arrested following a massive police siege of their collective headquarters and home in Powelton Village, Philadelphia, on August 8, 1978. Hundreds of pigs in SWAT teams armed with machine guns, teargas, bulldozers and water cannons surrounded the property, following a long standoff with racist city authorities.
The siege culminated in a police shootout in which MOVE members allegedly returned fire, though they denied doing so. A police officer, James Ramp, was killed in the crossfire.
Nine MOVE members were arrested and held jointly responsible for Ramp’s death despite forensic evidence showing he was killed with a single bullet. In 1980, the nine were convicted of third-degree murder and lesser offenses and each sentenced to 30 years to life.
Two of the nine – Merle and Phil Africa – died in prison. The remaining seven fought for many years to convince parole authorities that they were safe to be let out, pointing to clean discipline sheets in prison.
On May 13, 1985, the second disaster relating to MOVE occurred. Following another prolonged bout of acrimony between the organisation and racist city authorities, the decision was taken by the mayor to forcibly evict the group from its latest headquarters, then in Osage Avenue.
Another shootout broke out, and pigs dropped incendiary bombs from a helicopter on to the roof of the building. A fire ensued which was allowed to spread, eventually razing to the ground 61 homes in the overwhelmingly black neighborhood.
Eleven people in the MOVE house, including five children, died in the inferno. Chuck Africa’s cousin, Frank, was among the adults who were killed.
All the paroled members of the MOVE 9 are now preparing to mark the 35th anniversary of the tragedy. For the first time they will be able to commemorate the event and the relatives and comrades they lost outside a prison cell.