Alberta Africa was queen of her court Saturday afternoon. Seated on a pink milk crate on the porch of her new house, the MOVE leader spent her time answering questions for reporters and ignoring the photographer taking her picture. After the end of one interview, she turned to the next set of reporters. "Next!" Generous with her time, she talked politics and ecology for as long as anyone liked to listen. While most of her talk was serious and emphatic, she joked and smiled despite a confessed sadness that many other MOVE members have either died or are in jail. But she politely turned down any requests to look around the inside of her house. Africa's new house at 45th and Kingsessing streets, which is a a few blocks south of Baltimore Avenue, is a source of curiosity and fear among her neighbors and many other people in West Philadelphia. In many residents' minds, the attention over MOVE's new house has brought back memories of a day six years ago almost everyone in the city -- including Alberta Africa -- do not want repeated. · Africa blames the series of events leading up to May 13, 1985 on a "conspiracy" of people in city and state government. But Wilson Goode's blue-ribbon commission placed blame for those events squarely on the mayor's shoulders. The commission -- as well as the eyes of the world -- examined the bombing of a MOVE house at 6221 Osage Avenue, which killed six adults and five children after the city dropped explosives on the house and then did not fight the ensuing fire for over an hour. The city intended to use the bomb as a threat to get the residents of the house, members of the radical back-to-nature cult, to leave. For weeks, neighborhood residents had been complaining that MOVE members had boarded up the windows of their house and erected and elaborate public address system. Residents said members cursed on the loudspeakers in the middle of the night, ran across neighborhood rooves assaulting residents, and kept stray dogs, cats and rats. When MOVE members barricaded themselves in the building and started shooting at police, the bomb was dropped. But as the fire roared, members continued to shoot at police from the building and firefighters could not approach. But because of the delay, flames grew to be uncontrollable, and eventually destroyed 61 houses on the block. People across the country questioned the logic of Philadelphia government for years to follow, asking why a mayor would bomb his own people. · Africa, who bought the house June 4 under the name Alberta Wicker, said the house attracted her because of its big back yard, which will provide space for her two dogs and their puppies and for entertaining other MOVE members when they pass through the city. On Saturday, her dogs, a kelpie and a dalmation, trotted around the porch, running between Africa and her guests for attention. They barked occasionally to announce the arrival of strangers, but then settled down and greeted people as they approached the house. They ran freely around the fenced yard, which has a water bowl out for them across the driveway from a row of neatly-filled trash cans. Africa was emphatic when she spoke about the problems she sees in government and society. Her voice stayed continually at a high pitch while she gestured and cursed almost continuously. "Officials don't give a damn about you or me or anyone else," she said. Africa said MOVE is dedicated to teaching people about the corruption of democratic society, a society which she describes as having turned citizens into slaves and public servants into all-powerful masters. But government officials consider them subversive radicals willing to overthrow the system. Africa points to the Founding Fathers, who put into parchment their belief that there is a "right to overthrow" the government if one does not like it. As part of government's grab for power, she added, people have been taught to be satisfied with things they don't really need, such as money and material goods, rather than things from nature, which are all people need. Africa, who has been in MOVE since the 1970s, said people in MOVE try to avoid continual obligations to the government or to outsiders. Their children do not attend schools, and instead of holding down full-time jobs, MOVE members do odd jobs or operate their own businesses. She said public education is particularly frightening because it takes children when they are young and impressionable and "fills [their] heads with shit." Government officials try to silence people who question the foundations of the status quo, she added. "It goes past color," she said, pointing to the shootings at Kent State in 1972 as another example of government protecting their positions. "Nobody's got no freedom in this world," Africa said. "Kissing everybody's ass -- that's not freedom." · Africa will not tell how many people have moved into her new house, two halves of a duplex at 4504 and 4506 Kingsessing Street less than 100 feet from Clark Park. She said only that "not many" people will live there although observers may notice a lot of coming and going. A few of her new neighbors have stopped by to say "hello," and welcome the new residents, although she said at least two people are concerned about them. One, her next-door neighbor to the east, is concerned because some men tore down a section of a rotted fence to erect their own without asking the neighbor. Africa said she and her neighbor have worked out an agreement that men from the house will rebuild that section. Another neighbor came up to Africa while she was walking her two dogs to warn her their neighborhood was a "quiet one" and they wanted to keep it that way. "People say we're so violent -- they say they're afraid," Africa said, adding she thinks her neighbors do not feel afraid given that they speak openly about their concerns without fear of retaliation. Africa said neighbors' complaints that MOVE members are dirty insult her. "We live simple -- we don't live cosmetic but we live clean." She said the police have not bothered the house, but that they are "prepared" to retaliate if they do. And she says she is concerned that if the city confronts MOVE again, officials will devise a more efficient way of destroying them. But she says that after the bombing, the group has nothing to lose, and that the group's faith in God affords them "a lot of peace." "We're not sacrificial -- we're not fanatics," Africa said. "But we're not going to be slaves."Comments powered by Disqus
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