Protesters mark 30th anniversary of MOVE disaster

Ramona Africa greets friends at the end of a march commemorating the MOVE disaster's 30th anniversary. (MATTHEW HALL/For The Inquirer)

They marched through the streets, chanted, and held rallies to painfully remember the day 30 years ago when Osage Avenue became a deadly inferno.

About 400 people packed into a ballroom at First District Plaza Wednesday afternoon to mark the May 13, 1985, MOVE bombing by Philadelphia police. Other activities were held around the city.

Eleven MOVE activists, including five children, died. The bombing at 6221 Osage Ave. and allowing the ensuing fire to burn were orchestrated to end a standoff with members of the group.

Philosopher and scholar Cornel West, among more than a dozen speakers and performers at a four-hour event to cap a day of remembrances, said he wanted to support the "struggle against racism, class, and injustice."

"We live in the moment of Ferguson and Baltimore," West said. referring to recent incidents where unarmed black men were killed by police. "Any time you drop bombs on innocent folks, it's a crime against humanity."

Ramona Africa, the lone remaining survivor of the bombing, greeted supporters. The mood outside the ballroom was festive as vendors sold commemorative T-shirts and food, while inside, speakers demanded justice.

"Never forget MOVE," West said, bringing the crowd to its feet. Photographs of the 11 who died were lined up on the stage. A message on a painting read, "Never let it happen again."

"We're hoping that people will unite and keep fighting this system, because the system is wrong," said Orie Lumumba, 36, one of the event's organizers and a longtime MOVE supporter.

The protesters also called for the release of nine MOVE members convicted in the 1978 murder of Police Officer James J. Ramp and the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted in the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Sharif El-Mekki, 43, of West Philadelphia, principal of Mastery Charter School's Shoemaker campus, brought his students and staff to the program as a learning experience.

"We must teach the younger generation. We should not forget what happened," he said. "Other races never forget the atrocities that happened to their people."

The commemoration began on Osage Avenue with a rally and peaceful march - a caravan of walkers, bikers and drivers - escorted by police to 38th and Market Streets for the closing event.

"Seeing that horrific scene 30 years ago touched something in my heart," said Patricia Patterson, 52, of New York City, who came with two busloads of supporters. "I made sure to be a part of today."


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

Inquirer staff writer Matt Gelb contributed to this article.