I refused to bring a camera or a pen. I came to hear whatever anyone had to say about MOVE. I came as an audience member, not a reporter. After what I experienced, I have to report something.
I always announce these lecture type events held by ‘Chester Made.’ They always seem to attract the same group of people no matter the topic. That core group of people were rocked to the core of their emotional capacity last night at the MJ Freed Theater.
People around these parts over the age of 45 probably remember the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. It’s what we know that varies greatly from person to person. As people went around the room introducing themselves, it was apparent folks were just as curious as I on what the night would bring when the topic is ‘Re-member MOVE’ and reconciliation.
There’s no way I can recap in short form what was shared last night but I’m hoping to acquire the audio portion to possibly package in some type of podcast format because it was powerful.
Imagine having a journalist, now Temple University journalism professor, speak on how he knew the MOVE members first as neighbors then as the subject of his on-location newspaper reporting throughout both the 1978 and 1985 tragedies. He spoke at length about what he saw first hand being right in the fox hole of the happenings. His anger describing Philadelphia politics and police policy during that period left no doubt why things got as far out of hand as they did.
Imagine being in the company of a lady dozens of times only to learn last night that she was on the jury of the 1985 MOVE incident. She talked of how she was instructed to remain emotional-less during the hearing and how hard it was to leave that whole experience behind and get back to normal when it all ended. She shared how an attorney told the court room to remain silent for 60 seconds and imagine being consumed by flames, then seeing a mother who lost children in the fire just start screaming uncontrollably.
Imagine hearing from one of the children who was born on his mother’s jail cell floor and was barely spared from the fire that consumed his family and playmates. He shared the experience of joy finally seeing his effort to get his mom and dad out of prison after 40 years of fighting for their release.
Imagine hearing from his mother speak of the hurt, harm and injustice she and the others faced leading up to the 1978 ‘standoff’ at their Powelton Village ‘compound.’ She shared little known facts of how many had moved out the house to locations out of the city and state but were gathered up by law enforcement just the same – one of those locations being in Chester.
Imagine hearing from a local media revolutionary who reminded us how his mother pointed to the MOVE people as the type of people he should not be because when you open your mouth against oppression, you will get beat down. He reminded us that the hair styles they wore in 1978 is the fashion trend today.
Imagine an audience member sharing how his nieces burned in the 1985 fire and to-date no one has described how they died.
You can’t imagine the dialogue between the man on stage who is cousin to many of those children and the audience member who lost his nieces. He mentioned how he wondered the same thing and was afraid to ask for so many years not knowing if he really wanted to know.
The only thing missing last night was the ‘60 Minutes’ film crew. However, cameras have a way of distorting authenticity.
Two young ladies in their 20s couldn’t stop crying. They confessed to not knowing anything about MOVE and what they saw and heard last night overwhelmed them. They couldn’t believe more people weren’t openly reacting the same way.
I can’t speak for anyone else in that room, but that was one of the most emotional events I’ve ever attended. The purpose of the event is to restart the conversation, bring attention to a historic tragedy that should not be forgotten and should go down in American history, and to seek an apology and possible reconciliation from the people and agencies who allowed it to go down the way it did.
One thing that was very clear last night. Mayor W. Wilson Goode was the fall guy and is still looked upon by many to be the only person responsible for the MOVE tragedy when it’s clear he had no idea what was going on behind his back.
If you have a MOVE story you’d like to share, let us know. This movement has just begun to put the pieces back together again.