May 13, 1985 was the anniversary of the notorious siege on the organization known as MOVE in West Philadelphia which led to a bomb being dropped on a row home at 5:27 p.m. where family members were prevented from escaping resulting in the loss of 11 lives, including children, and the total destruction of 60 homes on the block. Survivors were sent to jail where several of them remain today. A few have been recently released from jail and a few more soon to be released, as their normal day-to-day movements are restricted thanks to parole and probation.
Also, at 6:15 a.m. that same morning of May 13, 1985, a mother and 5 children associated with MOVE were tear gassed out of their Chester home by Chester police and the children were immediately taken from their parents and sent into the custody of the county.
Yesterday marked 34 years since all that occurred and if it wasn’t for the work of Ulysses Butch Slaughter and the staff of WURD 900am radio in Philadelphia, it would have been just another day for most of us.
America seems fascinated with observing tragedies. Thanks to annual reminders, who doesn’t know what happened on December 7th, 1941, or September 11, 2001? Columbine High School was in the news recently reminding us of that tragedy 20 years ago. We’ve come to expect to be poked when anniversaries pop up for Stoneman Douglas, Sandy Hook, Pulse Night Club, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, D-Day, hurricane Katrina, or the Wade Dump fire.
MOVE? Well, that’s a different story. In fact, there was no story at all in either of the major Philadelphia newspapers or the Delaware County Daily Times yesterday. It’s one of those events we’re expected to forgot. Ironically, the moniker that’s latched to 9-11 is ‘Never Forget.’
I’ll confess I never studied MOVE. I remember when Rizzo & dem bulldozed the Powelton Village MOVE home in 1978 and some of the events that led to, and followed, that extreme use of force. I remember walking into my parent’s home watching the 1985 bombing on their kitchen TV while they ate dinner and me wondering where the fire department was while the block was burning down. Not much of any of it made any sense to me at that time. There was a lot of anger on one side and a lot of confusing and nonsensical justification on the other. And then a lot of time passed leading to an event that seemed to lose much of its historic significance.
That started to change about 6 months ago when Ulysses Slaughter was asked to break out his Reconciliation Specialist skills sparked by the naming of a street in Philly for W. Wilson Goode who’s entire tenue as Philadelphia’s first black mayor was essentially narrowed down to him being the one who took the fall, but also accepted responsibility, for the 1985 MOVE bombing decision. Many people in Philadelphia only see Mayor Goode through the eyes of MOVE and refuse to forget. Despite his many other great accomplishments as mayor, many locals feel the street naming is a disgraceful insult to the legacy of MOVE, and of black people in general.
Could this be an opportunity for some reconciliation between Mayor Goode and the MOVE members? Ulysses Slaughter took on the challenge to see what could happen.
Fast forward to yesterday. Very late last week (like Thursday-Friday), the management of WURD and Slaughter hastily laid out a program schedule for Monday’s full day recognition of the MOVE day of remembrance. Slaughter called on the many people he had encountered in the past 6-months to join the program either in person or by call-in. The 3 big highlights of the day’s program (in my opinion) were:
- Starting the morning off with a remembrance of what occurred in the Chester MOVE siege.
- Sitting Mayor W. Wilson Goode and Michael Africa in the same studio to take on the tough questions of 1985.
- Ringing of the bell 11 times in remembrance of the 11 who lost their lives in the inferno on Osage Ave in 1985 at 5:27 p.m.
Speaking from a guy who was there in the studio space from beginning to end, I was intrigued how the MOVE discussion ramped up from what callers initially were talking about early Monday morning (the Sixers loss and ‘When do you bring a man around your children?) to total MOVE immersion by late morning.
Each host, guest, and caller brought something new, different, and important to the discussion. A lot was learned, shared, and challenged. As if the MOVE topic doesn’t bring enough drama and emotion of its own, assembling the variety of people who participated in the studio brought out it’s own set of conflict, emotions, and level setting.
Ulysses Slaughter is a Resolution Specialist not just in title. I watched him perform as a brilliant radio host, negotiator, coordinator, mediator, and damn near boxing ring referee yesterday. A couple times he had to step out of the ring, I mean studio, to join us in the conference room just to recharge, before going back in and seeing the day through.
The ultimate goal to all this MOVE remembrance, reconciliation, and resolution stuff is to start with Chester and Philadelphia finally offering a formal apology for what happened in 1985 which will spark the effort to learn the many lessons that need to be learned from that period of history.
As was said by more than a few people, most of us are forced to learn about the Holocaust as young students whether we’re Jewish or not. That remembrance almost dictates that nothing like that will happen again. Considering the tenor of our country today, no one could say the same about another MOVE situation.
There’s still a lot to unpack.