2 MOVE Members Now Free After More Than 40 Years in Jail

Two members of MOVE, a group of Black Power and environmental campaigners, were released on May 25 after spending more than 40 years in a Pennsylvania jail following a police siege that killed a Philadelphia officer.

Janine Phillips Africa and Janet Holloway Africa were released from SCI Cambridge Springs a year after their petitions for parole were denied. The women’s legal team filed federal petitions challenging the denial in 2018 after two fellow MOVE members were released that year, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office, which represented the women, said in a statement that the two were with family and friends following their release. People’s Law Office attorney Brad Thomson told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the women were staying in the Philadelphia area and were planning to make a public appearance in the “near future.”

“The release of Janet and Janine is a victory not only for them and their loved ones, but also for the MOVE Organization and the movement to free all political prisoners,” Thomson said in a statement. The attorney said that the two women were excellent candidates for parole and were described as model incarcerated people by corrections staff. Neither had been disciplined in more than 20 years, he said.

“While in prison, they have participated in community fundraisers, and social programs, including training service dogs,” Thomson added. “They are remarkable women who deserve to be free.”

The Abolitionist Law Center and People’s Law Office did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. Phillips, 63, and Holloway 68, were arrested following a fatal police siege on their home in August 1978, The Guardian reported. The women and other members of MOVE, now known as the MOVE 9, were living in a communal house in Philadelphia with the group’s founder John Africa, also known as Vincent Leaphart. Members of the group took on the last name Africa to symbolize their relationship as a family.

According to The Guardian, the group fought for equal treatment of African Americans as well as respect for nature and animals. Two years before the fatal 1978 incident, police arrived at MOVE’s house, prompting a fight. Phillips was knocked down as she held her newborn baby, Life. The baby, whose skull was shattered during the scuffle, died that day.

On August 8, 1978, Philadelphia officers descended on the home to remove the group. During the chaos, Officer James Ramp was fatally shot by a single bullet. The group maintained they were all unarmed, but that did not prevent nine members from being sentenced to 30 years to life.

Three more members of the MOVE 9 remain incarcerated: Chuck Sims Africa, Delbert Orr Africa, and Eddie Goodman Africa, according to The Abolitionist Law Center. Two members, Merle Austin Africa and Phil Africa, died while in custody.

On May 13, 1985, police attacked the members of MOVE again with an incendiary bomb from a helicopter. The bomb destroyed the house and 60 other homes along Osage Avenue in the predominantly Black neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Eleven members of the group, including John Africa and five children, were burned to death. Among the dead was Phillips' 12-year-old son, Little Phil.

“There are times when I think about Life and my son Phil, but I don’t keep those thoughts in my mind long because they hurt. The murder of my children, my family, will always affect me, but not in a bad way,” Phillips wrote to The Guardian. “When I think about what this system has done to me and my family, it makes me even more committed to my belief.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.