[Marxism] Survivor of MOVE firebombing dies

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Sep 28 07:52:14 MDT 2013

Trailer for movie on MOVE mentioned in this obit: 

NY Times September 27, 2013
Michael Ward, Survivor of ’85 Bombing by Philadelphia Police, Is Dead at 41

When the boy ran from the house, he was burned over a fifth of his body 
and so malnourished that at 13 he looked like a child of 9.

He had never been to school and could not read, write, use a toothbrush 
or tell time. His mother would die in the fire he had fled.

Yet after years of rehabilitation from injuries physical and 
psychological, he graduated from high school, served in the Army, became 
a father and made a career as a long-haul trucker and a barber.

The boy, then known as Birdie Africa, and later as Michael Ward, was one 
of just two people — and the only child — to survive the Move bombing, 
the 1985 Philadelphia debacle in which police officers seeking to rout a 
black separatist group touched off a fire that killed 11 people, 5 of 
them children, and destroyed three city blocks.

Mr. Ward, 41, died Sept. 20 while vacationing aboard a cruise ship in 
the Caribbean. An investigator for the Brevard County, Fla., medical 
examiner’s office told The Associated Press that Mr. Ward’s body was 
found in a hot tub on the ship, the Carnival Dream. The apparent cause 
was accidental drowning.

The Move bombing endures in the national memory as one of the most 
shameful episodes in Philadelphia’s history.

In an interview on Friday, the filmmaker Jason Osder, who made a 
documentary about the bombing, said that Mr. Ward’s death “in a strange 
way has reminded us of the nature of the event itself: it’s tragic that 
he died young, but it serves as a reminder of the other five children 
that didn’t even live to age 41.”

Mr. Osder’s film, “Let the Fire Burn,” which is organized around 
13-year-old Michael’s videotaped testimony at the official inquiry into 
the bombing, is scheduled to open at Film Forum in New York on Wednesday 
and nationwide afterward.

On May 13, 1985, hundreds of police officers converged on Move’s 
fortified row house in West Philadelphia, intent on serving arrest 
warrants on several of its members. After a gun battle during which the 
police failed to dislodge the group, they dropped explosives on the roof.

The explosion started a fire that destroyed Move’s house and 60 others, 
leaving some 250 people homeless. All of the 11 dead were Move members 
or their children; only Michael and Ramona Africa, an adult in the 
group, survived.

Although Move positioned itself as a radical back-to-nature group, it 
was run, in the young Mr. Ward’s accounts, far more like a cult.

Michael Moses Ward — the name his father gave him after he was rescued — 
was born Olewolffe Momer Puim Ward on Dec. 19, 1971, the son of Andino 
Ward and the former Rhonda Harris.

His parents separated when he was about 2, and he spent his early 
childhood with his mother in a Move commune in Virginia, where they 
became known as Rhonda and Birdie Africa. (In solidarity with Move’s 
founder, John Africa, né Vincent Leaphart, members took Africa as their 
surname.) Michael and his mother later went to live with the group in 

As Michael testified afterward, Move’s children were forbidden cooked 
food and contact with outsiders. While the adults around them ate hot 
meals, the children subsisted largely on a diet of raw fruit and 
vegetables, deemed purer — and therefore fit for children — by the 
movement’s leaders.

Toys were also forbidden, though the children grew skilled at spotting 
neighborhood children’s discards on the street and secreting them about 
the house.

“We would poke little holes in the wall and hide toys there,” Mr. Ward, 
who spoke to the news media only rarely, said in a 1995 interview with 
The Philadelphia Inquirer. “I remember I had a toy soldier hidden in the 
wall in the basement.”

Michael and the other children resolved to run away. When Move’s leaders 
got wind of their plan, he said in the Inquirer interview, they told the 
children that if they did, they would be tracked down and killed.

Testifying in the fall of 1985 in the city’s inquiry into the bombing, 
Michael told of huddling in the basement during the standoff, listening 
to bullets fly and then hearing an explosion (“It shook the whole house 
up,” he said) before being pushed by his mother into an alley behind the 

Afterward, he was reunited with his father, who lived outside 
Philadelphia and had been searching for him for years, unaware that he 
was so close at hand.

He learned to read and write, graduating from high school in Lansdale, 
Pa., where he was on the football team, and attending junior college 
briefly. From 1997 to 2001, he served in the Army, attaining the rank of 

Move’s legacy remained visible in the burn scars on Mr. Ward’s face, 
arms and torso. It could be discerned in other ways as well.

“I have a hard time getting close to anybody, feeling anything about 
anybody,” Mr. Ward told The Inquirer. “It has to do with the way I was 
brought up.”

He added: “It’s not even so much the fire. I had some bad dreams about 
the fire when I was little, but not anymore. The things that bother me 
most are the things I remember about Move before the fire. There are 
some things that happened that I can’t talk about.”

As was widely reported, under the terms of a 1991 settlement with the 
City of Philadelphia, Mr. Ward and his father were to receive a lump-sum 
payment of $840,000, followed by a series of lifetime monthly payments 
starting at $1,000 and increasing over the years.

Andino Ward has said publicly that all of the initial payment went to 
legal fees; Michael Ward said that he had never grown rich from the rest.

Michael Ward, who lived in Pennsylvania, was divorced. Besides his 
father, his survivors include a son, Michael, and a daughter, Rhonda. 
The family did not return telephone calls, and further information about 
Mr. Ward, including his survivors, could not be confirmed.

In the Inquirer interview, Mr. Ward spoke of the fire as a devastation — 
but not an unalloyed one.

“In a way, I’m glad it happened,” he said. “The only regret I have is 
about me being hurt and my mom dying and the other kids. I feel bad for 
the people who died, but I don’t have any anger toward anybody. See, I 
got out.”

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