The Suspicious Death of Political Prisoner Merle Africa

Revolutionary Worker #949, March 22, 1998

The RW has just learned the very sad news of the death of political prisoner Merle Africa at Cambridge Springs Prison in Pennsylvania. A statement from the MOVE Organization issued March 13, 1998 said:

"Today our sister and family member Merle Austin Africa died under very suspicious circumstances. After a short bout with a stomach virus from which she was almost fully recovered (family visited with Merle last Thursday) she fainted in the cell last night going to the bathroom. The prison authorities removed Debbie Sims Africa and stayed in the cell with Merle for 45 minutes and finally called an ambulance and took her to an outside hospital.

"We were not allowed any information and only after Merle's mother insisted was she told that Merle had died.

"Information is sketchy but on Thursday the 5th Merle was looking good and feeling back to her old self and gave strong hugs to family who came to visit. Merle was a young woman in her mid-forties of good health and strong spirit.

"One week after she is dead. We need to have answers!"


The RW sends deep condolences to the family and friends of Merle Africa and the whole MOVE organization.

Merle and the other MOVE 9 prisoners--Debbie, Janine, Janet, Delbert, Phil, Mike, Chuck and Edward Africa--were imprisoned almost 20 years ago for a crime they did not commit. On August 8, 1978, hundreds of heavily armed police attacked a MOVE house located in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia. They pumped thousands of gallons of water and tear gas into the house and opened fire on the MOVE members inside, trying to force them out. During the hail of police gunfire, cop James Ramp was killed with a single bullet in his back. Nine members of MOVE--who became known as the MOVE 9--were framed for the murder of this cop. And each was sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison. Merle Africa and the other MOVE 9 are on the list of political prisoners for the Jericho '98 Amnesty Campaign.

Merle and the other MOVE 9 prisoners have had to endure brutal treatment at the hands of authorities who have tried to get them to back down from their revolutionary beliefs. Writing about the conditions of its imprisoned members, MOVE said: "At prison locations in the remote areas of Pennsylvania, MOVE members have endured years of repeated physical and mental abuse. Delbert, Carlos and Chuck Africa were kept in solitary confinement for over six years for refusing to violate MOVE belief by cutting their hair. MOVE women Janet, Janine, Merle, Debbie, Consuewella, Sue and Alberta Africa upheld their religious belief by refusing to give blood samples and were repeatedly put in solitary confinement, sometimes for as long as three years."

In the face of this kind of brutal treatment, the MOVE 9 have heroically stood strong and refused to let the authorities break their revolutionary spirit. A letter from the MOVE women prisoners in 1986 said: "Our work is to confront this system up front to show people not only that they can fight this system and win, but to show them the urgent need to fight."

Right after Merle died, Debbie Sims Africa was forced to go back to the cell she had shared with Merle and was not allowed to be with her other two sisters, Janet and Janine. But after many people called the prison to demand that Debbie Africa be allowed to move in with her sisters, prison authorities were forced to move Debbie and allow her to be with Janet and Janine.

The day Merle died, MOVE held a press conference in Philadelphia--which was whited-out by Philadelphia's mainstream press. Consuewella Africa--who was arrested with Merle after the 1978 police attack on the Powelton Village MOVE house and served 16 years in prison--stated at the press conference: "We don't really know what happened to Merle in that prison, why she is dead. We're saying, we're very suspicious. We're saying, HOW MUCH LONGER ARE WE GONNA LEAVE OUR PEOPLE TO DIE IN THESE PRISONS? We all know that Merle Africa was never guilty of ANY crime. We can also very safely assume that if Merle Africa was NOT beaten and held in prison for the past close to 20 YEARS that she would be alive right now. DEMAND FREEDOM FOR OUR POLITICAL PRISONERS NOW!! WHAT MORE IS IT GONNA TAKE?!"

Mumia Abu-Jamal issued a statement on the death of Merle Africa on March 13, which said in part:

For almost 21 years, this beautiful courageous, principled soldier of the army of life, Merle "China" Africa, endured the small-minded, petty, political persecution in unjust incarceration in the hell holes of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania....

"Let our loss spark a fire that fuels the engine of freedom for all of the remaining MOVE political prisoners. Let our hearts, spirits, voices and hands demand that they be freed from this unjust draconian political persecution. Let us truly work to free all MOVE political prisoners right now. Long live the spirit of Merle `China' Africa."

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)