The Return Of Debbie Africa: Released After 40 Years In Prison

Debbie Africa sits with her lawyer, Brad Thomson (left), and her son Michael Africa Jr (right) as she makes her first public appearance since being released from prison after 39 years and 10 months of incarceration on June 19th 2018. (Emily Cohen for WHYY)

“Although I felt excited and overwhelmed and happy,” Debbie Africa said, “I still felt incomplete, because I left prison and my sisters Janine and Janet didn’t. We came in on the same charges. We had the same everything. But when it came time to get out of prison, they didn’t do that the same. It’s a bittersweet victory for me.” – Debbie Africa,

According to The Alanta Black Star,

“After 40 years, Debbie Africa has been released from Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Cambridge Springs, the first of the infamous MOVE Nine to be paroled. Founded in 1972, the Philadelphia-based Black liberation group drew national attention after a stand-off with the Philadelphia Police Department in 1978 — resulting in the death of Officer James J. Ramp and Africa’s subsequent conviction along with eight others — and again in 1985, after authorities pushed for MOVE to vacate a row house in Philly. Following a violent standoff, police dropped two one-pound bombs on the rooftops, burning 65 homes in the neighborhood in the process. Eleven MOVE members, including five children, were killed in the 1985 standoff and fire.”

What Happened?

According to Debbie Africa’s detailed narrative on,

“It was about 5 am on the morning of August 8th, 1978, when my husband and me woke up by sounds of unfamiliar male voices and technology clanging outside our house. My husband got u to see what was going on while I anxiously waited with our baby girl in my arms. My husband came back very quickly and told me that cops were surrounding the house, I got up and in a hurry we went downstairs where everybody was gathering children and dogs and going into the basement where it would be safe. We huddled together scared because we knew cops had lots of guns and other weapons, we didn’t know how they were gonna do it, but we knew their plan was to kill us. Soon after everybody was in the basement, the windows were punched out and the cops were yelling over a loud speaker for us to come out the house. SHOOT! Wasn’t nobody about to come out that house with all them cops out there with guns. We didn’t know what they wanted, didn’t trust them so nobody went out there. Before we knew it water was comin through the hole where the window used to be, the wave of water sprayed thru the fire hose took u the entire width of the window and the length of the window hole, throwing 2×4 oak beams across the room slamming our big dogs up against the wall, and literally tearing the house apart from the inside, then a second wave of water came through another would be window and we were caught in a cross fire of water.

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All I could do was scream I was scared. Dogs and beams were flying everywhere and I cried when I saw our dogs being hurt and killed. I held tight to by baby and stayed low while the men hovered around us to protect us. When the cops started shooting I closed my eyes and just held tight to my stomach and protectively shielded them the best that I could from flying debris and planks. It was the most frightening situation I’ve ever been in. At one point I couldn’t even see the baby’s face because of the smoke bombs and tear gas thrown in the basement by the cos that was also choking me, all the while the water level was rising (we found out later during our trial from one of the lawyers appointed to represent us, that when a mixture of smoke an water are thrown together it acts as a deadly weapon and could have suffocated all of us). I personally thought we were gonna die. It was only a miracle that we didn’t die, with the way those cops were shootin at us (some shootin point blank in our faces close range), the way the firemen had water getting into the basement windows and the way they gassed us.


They were crazy that day and all I can say is LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA that we didn’t die because it wasn’t no restraint on the cops part that saved us. The attack was over in a short time but it seemed like hours when we finally came out the house, we were met by hundreds of armed cops. All five MOVE men were beaten bad over and over again by the cops but only Delbert’s beating was caught on camera.

I had just turned 22 in August. I was 8 ½ months pregnant when I had my 23 month old baby snatched from my arms by Philadelphia cops in front of my house on Aug. 8, 1978. I couldn’t believe we were being arrested; and charged no less with murder because we hadn’t done nothing wrong.”

Read Full Narrative by Debbie Africa on

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Author: Jason W.

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