On a Move: Philadelphia's Notorious Bombing and a Native Son's Lifelong Battle for Justice

Mike Africa Jr and D. Watkins



The incredible story of MOVE, the revolutionary Black civil liberties group that Philadelphia police bombed in 1985, killing 11 civilians—by one of the few people born into the organization, raised during the bombing's tumultuous aftermath, and entrusted with repairing what was left of his family.

Before police dropped a bomb on a residential neighborhood on May 13, 1985, few people outside Philadelphia were aware that a Black-led civil liberties organization had taken root there. Founded in 1972 by a charismatic ideologue called John Africa, MOVE’s mission was to protect all forms of life from systemic oppression, drawing ideology from the Black Panther Party, PETA, and Earth First. The organization emerged in an era when Black Philadelphians suffered under devastating policies brought by President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs and Mayor Frank Rizzo’s overtly racist police surveillance. MOVE members lived together in a commune of West Philadelphia row houses and took the surname Africa out of admiration for the group's founder.

But in MOVE's lifestyle, city officials saw threats to their status quo. Their bombing of the MOVE commune shocked the nation and made international news. Eleven people were killed, including five children. And the City of Brotherly Love became known as the City That Bombed Itself.

Among the children most affected by the bombing was Mike Africa Jr. Born in jail following a police attack on MOVE that led to his parents’ decades-long incarcerations, Mike was six years old and living with his grandmother when the commune was bombed. In the ensuing years, Mike sought purpose in the ashes left behind. He began learning about the law as a teenager and became adept at speaking and inspiring public support with the help of other MOVE members. In 2018, at age 40, he finally succeeded in getting his parents released from prison.

On a Move is one of the most unimaginable stories of injustice and resilience in recent American history. But it is not only one of tragedy. It is about coming-of-age for a young activist, the strong ties of family, and, against all odds, learning how to take indignities on the chin and to work within the very system that created them. At once a harrowing personal account and an impassioned examination of racism and police violence, On a Move testifies to the power of love and hope, in the face of astonishing wrongdoing.

ISBN 9780063318878
List price $32.50
Publisher Mariner Books
Year of publication 2024