Incarceration Nation

Remembering Delbert Africa

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Delbert Africa, revolutionary. He was born Delbert Orr. But the world knows him by the name of Delbert Africa, and therefore, as a prominent member of the revolutionary naturalist group MOVE.

In Philadelphia during the 1970s, Delbert was, perhaps, the best known and most quoted member of the group. As one of its older members, Delbert was adept at using the media to put out information and therefore promote MOVE aims.

His Chicago country accent and his clever word play made his quotes interesting and newsworthy.

I regret to inform you that Delbert Africa, who in January 2020 won his freedom after 41 years, lost his life several days ago to the ravages of cancer.

But that’s not the whole story. Late last year Delbert was rushed to a nearby hospital for an undisclosed ailment. At his release he consulted with doctors who were aghast at the drugs administered to him while he was in Dallas prison, Pennsylvania. One doctor was quoted as saying, “The medications they used in prison were poison.”

No matter, for Delbert emerged from his 41-year stent in prison strong in spirit. He loved the MOVE organization and hated the rotten-ass system, as he put it.

Delbert criticized Blacks who supported the system and opposed revolutionaries. He called them “niggapeans.” A word I’ve never heard before or after him.

Over a decade before the video-taped beating of Rodney King, in Los Angeles, Delbert was beaten by four Philadelphia cops August 8, 1978, which was taped by a local news station.

The video showed an un-armed Delbert emerged from a basement window—his body bare from the waist-up—his arms up, submitting to arrest. Immediately, four cops surrounded him, and they savagely beat him—rifle-butted him—smashed his head with a motorcycle helmet and kicked him unconscious. That they did.

He suffered a jaw fracture and his eye swelled to the size of an Easter Egg.

There was a whitewash of a trial against three of the cops, but the judge threw the case by dismissing the rural Pennsylvania jury and ordering an acquittal despite video-taped evidence of state brutality. And that brutality didn’t stop on the streets of West Philadelphia, nor the unjust trial or conviction, or sentencing. It continued for 41 more years—a soul-sapping prison, or pitiful medical, so-called, care.

Delbert Africa endured it all and walked free with his Black revolutionary soul intact. He remained a MOVE member, a follower of the teachings of John Africa. And left this life in the loving embrace of his MOVE family and his daughter, Yvonne Orr-Ell. And love is about as close as we get to freedom.

Delbert Africa, after 72 summers, returns to the ancestors.

—Transcribed from, June 19, 2020