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Africa, Ramona | Amistad Research Center

Name: Africa, Ramona
Variant Name: Ramona Johnson


Historical 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.

Sources:

Michael Boyette and Randy Boyette, Let it Burn: The Philadelphia Tragedy, (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1989), 49.

“Sharing and Caring: Interview with Ramona Africa,” accessed December 12, 2014,http://www.davidsheen.com/sharing/interviews/ramona.htm.

“Philadelphia Special Investigation (MOVE) Commission Records,” Temple University, accessed December 10, 2014, http://library.temple.edu/scrc/philadelphia-special-.

“Ramona Africa: The Lone Adult Survivor of MOVE Fire,” Philadelphia Inquirer, accessed December 10, 2014,http://articles.philly.com/2010-05-07/news/24958366_1_ramona-africa-ramona-africa-police-bombing.

Kunbi Tinuoye, “MOVE Bombing Survivor Ramona Africa Tells All Ahead of New Documentary,” Grio, September 18, 2013, accessed December 10, 2014,http://thegrio.com/2013/09/18/move-bombing-survivor-ramona-africa-tells-all-ahead-of-new-documentary/#s:move-16x9.

Ramona Africa papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

Note Author: Chianta Dorsey





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