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John Africa
Born Vincent Leaphart
(1931-07-26)July 26, 1931
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died May 13, 1985(1985-05-13) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Known for founder of MOVE

John Africa (July 26, 1931 – May 13, 1985), born Vincent Leaphart, was the founder of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based, self-proclaimed predominantly black organization active from the early 1950s and still active. He was fatally shot during an armed standoff with the Philadelphia Police Department.

Early life, work, and deathEdit

He was born Vincent Leaphart on July 26, 1931, in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Leaphart's mother died when he was young and he blamed the hospital where she was being treated for her death. Leaphart served in the Korean War.[1] From this period he derived an early hatred of the "American class system" and its ties to race. He adopted the name "John Africa" because of his ethnic origin as an African American, and because he believed Africa to be the place where life originated.[1]

Africa later met Donald Glassey, a social worker from the University of Pennsylvania. Africa began to dictate notes for Glassey to write down for him. Glassey's notes would eventually become a document called The Guideline.[2]

Glassey, after being found in possession of weapons, was later arrested. He implicated Africa and other MOVE members in various crimes. On July 23, 1981, in the Philadelphia federal court, Africa and his co-defendant Alfonso Africa (representing themselves) were tried and acquitted on weapons and conspiracy charges by a jury that deliberated for almost six days.

Law enforcement officials obtained indictments on the implicated members of MOVE and, on May 13, 1985, attempted to arrest them. There was an armed standoff with MOVE. Several members were killed because of actions of police during the raid.[3] During the raid, the Philadelphia Police Department head of bomb disposal, on board a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter, dropped a satchel containing a gel-based explosive on a fortified bunker occupied by members of MOVE. The resulting explosion started a fire that resulted in the destruction of 65 homes in the neighborhood. The order was given by city officials to "let the fire burn". The explosion, fire, and shootout killed most MOVE members, including Africa, five other adults and five children. Only Ramona and Birdie Africa survived, but both were severely burned. Birdie was released but Ramona was convicted and sentenced to serve a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison. She served the full-time.[4]

Influence on othersEdit

Philadelphia activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has followed the teachings of John Africa,[5] and was a supporter of the MOVE organization.[6] During Abu-Jamal's 1982 murder trial for the death of a police officer, Abu-Jamal made repeated requests to be represented by Africa. The judge denied these as Africa was not an attorney.

See alsoEdit


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