The violent confrontation between Philadelphia police and the radical group MOVE in 1985 will be commemorated with a state historical marker later this year. That’s because a group of school children took an interest in the subject.
Kids at the Jubilee School, a private elementary school in West Philadelphia, studied the deadly showdown in which police evacuated a block of Osage Avenue near Cobbs Creek to evict MOVE members from a fortified rowhouse in the middle of the block.
It began with morning gunfire and ended with police dropping a bomb on the roof of the MOVE compound, igniting a fire that killed 11 people and destroyed 61 homes.
Jubilee School founder and director Karen Falcon said students did research and interviewed several people involved in the tragedy, including journalists who covered it and Ramona Africa, the only adult MOVE member to survive the assault.
Falcon said the state application for the marker was long and detailed.
“They had to document all their facts, where they got them, and they did a lot of research,” Falcon said. “And then, after that, they wrote a petition to get support from the community — and they got about 200 signatures.”
On the anniversary of the attack last year, the students visited Osage Avenue.
“We had made some poems about the MOVE bombing, so we went down there,” said Ella Adams, a Jubilee sixth-grader. “We decided to read them in honor of the people who died there, and we took a little walk around to see how it was.”
Every year the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission gets 50 to 60 applications for historical markers. A panel of historians reviews them, and approves about a third of the applications.
Karen Galle, who coordinates the Historical Marker Program, said the events commemorated must have “statewide and/or national, rather than local or regional historical significance.”
The MOVE tragedy met that criterion, and the students’ documentation was judged sound.
The marker will have a roughly 40-word message, which isn’t yet final.
The kids were delighted to hear the marker was approved, but there was one hitch.
Galle said in 2009 Pennsylvania’s Legislature eliminated funding for historical markers; since then, the sponsoring organizations are responsible for the entire cost.
That means the school will have to come up about $1,000. Falcon said they’re working on it, and they hope to have a dedication ceremony in June.