Just three-years after the June 2013 tragedy that left six dead and 13 injured when a demolition disaster crashed tons of bricks into a Salvation Army store, top Philadelphia City Hall officials, relatives of victims and others gathered at the site of that deadly Center City incident to break ground for a memorial honoring those killed and injured.
Yet, over 32-years after a horrific May 1985 incident that left 11 dead and 61 homes destroyed not a single memorial exists anywhere in Philadelphia…not even for the five children slain when Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on 6221 Osage Ave. and allowed a blaze sparked by their bomb to rage into an inferno.
However, a Pennsylvania State Historic Marker now sits on Cobbs Creek Parkway at Osage Avenue, near that bombing, bearing witness to America’s worst incident of police brutality that occurred on May 13, 1985.
Shamefully, this historic marker did not materialize from efforts by Philadelphia’s leadership (civic, corporate, political or religious) to belatedly memorialize that deadly 1985 incident which also left 250 homeless – persons whose life possessions were incinerated by governmental callousness.
This historic marker – finally in Philadelphia that extols its fabled ‘Historic Firsts’ – now stands due to efforts by a group of children from the Jubilee School in University City. Those students were shocked to discover nothing existed recognizing that outrageous fatal bombing. The students’ multi-pronged campaign to get the historic marker began with their study of abusive policing across America.
“These young people, 12 and 13-year-olds, accomplished in a year what adults didn’t do in more than 30-years,” Ramona Africa said. She is the lone adult survivor from that 6221 house police bombed in 1985 during a clash with the group MOVE.
The first time Africa returned to the Osage Ave. area since May 13, 1985 was to attend the June 24th, 2017 dedication of that Pa Historic Marker. “All the work those children did, I couldn’t say no even though I didn’t want to ever be near that place again,” MOVE member Africa said.
These children who ended a historic omission received applause recently while attending a meeting of ATAC – the local organization that pushed federal and local officials to formally recognize the suppressed fact that George Washington held slaves at the house where he lived in Philadelphia when serving as America’s first president.
ATAC member, attorney/commentator Michael Coard said, “thanks to these enlightened children, we now have a constant reminder so as to avoid horrific history repeating itself.”
Coard, echoing a conclusion of the commission that investigated the 1985 incident, said, “It wasn’t the MOVE bombing. It was the police bombing of a middle class Black neighborhood.”
That horrific 1985 bombing/burning is another reason to remove the controversial Center City statue of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s 1970s mayor infamous for bigoted policies like backing brutal policing against blacks and Latinos.
Rizzo’s verbal bombast and vicious police beatings escalated City Hall/MOVE tensions, triggering a fatal 1978 police-MOVE clash that directly fueled that 1985 catastrophe.