[Pnews] Move 9 member Delbert Orr Africa freed after 42 years in prison

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Jan 18 12:14:38 EST 2020

9 member Delbert Orr Africa freed after 42 years in prison
Ed Pilkington - January 18, 2020

One of the great open wounds of the 1970s black liberation struggle came
closer to being healed on Saturday with the release of Delbert Orr Africa,
a member of the Move 9 group
who has been imprisoned for 42 years for a crime he says he did not commit.

Del Africa walked free from Pennsylvania’s state correctional institution,
Dallas, on Saturday morning after a long struggle to convince parole
authorities to release him. He is the eighth of the nine Move members – five
men and four women
– to be released
or to have died while in prison.

Only one of the nine, Chuck Africa, remains behind bars.

The nine were arrested and sentenced to 30 years to life following a
dramatic police siege of their communal home in Philadelphia
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/philadelphia> which culminated with a
shootout on 8 August 1978. In the maelstrom a police officer, James Ramp,
was killed with a single bullet. Move has always denied that any of its
members were responsible.

Brad Thomson, a member of Del Africa’s legal team, said the decision to
release him on parole “affirms what the movement to free the Move 9 has
been arguing for decades: that their continued incarceration is unjust”.

Thomson added: “With the release of Delbert, that leaves Charles ‘Chuck’
Africa as the last member of the Move 9 to still be in prison. Chuck went
before the parole board last month and we are optimistic that he will be
released in the very near future.”

The Guardian told the story of Del Africa and his fellow Move 9 member
Janine Phillips Africa
in a series of articles
<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/series/black-power-behind-bars> on
black radicals who have been incarcerated for decades as a result of their
activities in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

Move was formed in Philadelphia as a group of black radicals committed not
only to the liberation from racial oppression, in tune with the Black
Panther party of the time, but also to environmentalist and back-to-nature
ideals. They lived, as they still do today, as a family, taking “Africa” as
their shared last name.

Over two years, from prison, Del Africa related his story to the Guardian
in emails and a three-hour interview. He recounted how he became engaged in
the black struggle when a girlfriend introduced him to the Black Panther
Party in Chicago in the late 1960s.

Later, he moved to Philadelphia and drifted into Move. He was inside the
Move house in Powelton Village in the summer of 1978 when it came under
police siege.

The city, under a notoriously brutal mayor, Frank Rizzo, wanted to evict
the group on the grounds that they were a nuisance and an affront to public

When the shootout broke out, police went in with guns and water cannon. Del
Africa provided one of the astonishing images of the black liberation
struggle when he emerged from the house with his arms outstretched, as if
on the cross, while a police officer jabbed a rifle in his neck.

Video footage shows two officers throwing him to the ground and kicking him
on the head, which bounces between them like a ball.

Africa described the event: “A cop hit me with his helmet. Smashed my eye.
Another cop swung his shotgun and broke my jaw. I went down, and after that
I don’t remember anything till I came to and a dude was dragging me by my
hair and cops started kicking me in the head.”

For six years of his incarceration, Delbert Africa was put in an infamous
solitary confinement wing known by prisoners as the “dungeon”. His
isolation was imposed because he refused to have his dreadlocks cut – part
of the Move philosophy.

He recalled in Guardian interviews how he survived in solitary confinement
by developing a black history quiz with other prisoners, which they would
play by tapping out messages. Other prisoners joined the game, which asked
questions like: when was the Brown v Board of Education ruling in the US
supreme court? What year was the Black Panther party founded? Who was Dred
Scott? For what is John Brown remembered?

In 1985, when Del Africa had been in prison for almost seven years, tragedy
struck again. He learned that Philadelphia police had conducted a second
on the Move communal home, which was now located in Osage Avenue.

On this occasion, the police dropped an incendiary bomb from a helicopter.
The bomb ignited a fire that spread through the overwhelmingly African
American neighborhood.

City leaders allowed the fire to rage. Sixty-one houses were razed and 11
people in the Move house were killed, including five children. One of the
survivors, Ramona Africa, was badly burned. She was duly put on trial and
sentenced to seven years in prison.

One of the children who died was Delisha, Del Africa’s 13-year-old
daughter. He told the Guardian how he responded to the news that she had
been killed in an inferno: “I just cried. I wanted to strike out. I wanted
to wreak as much havoc as I could until they put me down. That anger, it
brought such a feeling of helplessness. Like, dang! What to do now? Dark

With the 35th anniversary of the bombing approaching in May, Del Africa is
free. At the end of the Guardian’s interview with him, he described how he
had managed to endure four decades behind bars.

“I keep staying on the move. Stagnation is the worst thing. I’m on the
move, and I hope you are too,” he said.

“We’ve suffered the worst that this system can throw at us – decades of
imprisonment, loss of loved ones. So we know we are strong. For all of
that, we are still here and I look on that with pride.”
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