On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on a building in a residential neighborhood, killing eleven people and leaving over 200 people homeless. If this incident is discussed at all in modern times, that’s usually the extent of it. That was the extent of my own personal knowledge prior to this semester. My dad had told me about it a while ago, but in a very basic, matter-of-fact way.
It took me a little while to figure out a topic for this project. Initially, this was going to be a part of a broader examination of racial conflict in Philadelphia. But as I did more research into this event specifically, I found that there was far more to the story. This couldn’t just be a part of a larger narrative; it deserved its own detailed analysis. I had to know: How did this happen? What happened to the people involved afterwards? Is anybody in the right in this story?
To very briefly give some background, MOVE was an organization operating in West Philadelphia beginning in the 1970s. While not initially founded as a black liberation group, that’s essentially what they became (although with very contradictory politics). Violent clashes with police led to the city government leaving MOVE alone for several years until the situation became untenable. After fighting with MOVE for a full day, and neither side able to gain an inch, the police decided to drop a bomb on MOVE’s fortified compound on Osage Avenue. The resulting fire spread to surrounding row homes and burned out several blocks.
What I intended to do with this timeline was expand the scope of this story. While most studies of the bombing start around 1978 (MOVE’s first violent clash with police), I argue that the story really begins in the 1960s. And while some studies continued through the investigations into city officials, they usually end it there. This timeline allows me to prove that the neighborhood is still feeling the effects of that bombing almost 35 years later. Using a timeline also allowed me to easily connect one event to the next, which allows me to argue that neither MOVE nor the city are the “good guys”. Everyone made bad decisions, people died, and the residents of Osage Avenue are still paying the price for those decisions.