This Day in History – May 14, 1985

Bombing of MOVE headquarters leaves 11 dead and 250 homeless


On this day in 1985, the MOVE headquarters was bombed.

MOVE, based in Philadelphia, is a black-based liberation group founded by John Africa in 1972. The group frequently engages in public demonstrations against racism, police brutality, and other political and controversial issues.

In 1981, MOVE relocated to a row house in West Philadelphia. Nearby residents complained for years that MOVE members were making political announcements by bullhorn. They were incredibly bothered by this and ended up breaking the bullhorn three weeks before the bombing would occur.

Police obtained arrest warrants and charged four occupants with crimes: Parole violation, contempt of court, illegal possession of firearms, and making terrorist threats.

Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s mayor, labeled MOVE a terrorist organization. Shortly thereafter, on May 14, police arrived to clear the building and make arrests.

An armed standoff with police occurred as a result. Officers threw canisters of tear gas at the building and then participated in a gunfight. After hearing news of the violence, Commissioner Sambor ordered MOVE to be bombed.


The Philadelphia Police Department dropped two one-pound bombs from a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter. The building exploded, and fuel from a gasoline-powered generator caused a fire to ignite. The bombing destroyed 65 nearby houses and over 250 people were left homeless.

Firefighters were given orders to let the fire burn.

Eleven people ended up dying as a result, including founder John Africa, five other adults, and five children.

Only two people survived the bombing. Romana Africa, one of the two survivors, received $1.5 from a civil suit. The jury in the case ruled that police used excessive force and violated members’ constitutional protections.

Philadelphia was nicknamed “The City that Bombed Itself.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the bombing of the MOVE headquarters, check out the 2013 documentary titled Let the Fire Burn.


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