What’s in a street name?
When it involves former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., the answer is: A lot.
The renaming of the 2400 block of North 59th Street for the city’s first Black mayor has ignited the ire of some West Philadelphia residents, many of whom who plan to protest the dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday between City and Overbrook avenues.
The honorary dedication has revived unresolved tensions of the MOVE bombing that happened under Goode’s Administration on May 13, 1985.
“It’s insensitive because his name is also synonymous with a location where people were killed and children died,” Milele Gailliard, a resident who lives near where the street will be renamed, said on Thursday at a City Council meeting where a handful of people spoke against the dedication.
That ire also has been heaped on Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, who made the proposal without input from folks in the Wynnefield and Overbrook Farms neighborhood communities.
Jones said he proposed the street renaming, which the City Council passed in June, because Goode was a mentor of his.
Goode, 80, said he never asked for the dedication and it does not matter much to him — but he will accept it.
“I support something in the name of the first African-American mayor of Philadelphia,” Goode said during a telephone conversation Thursday. “Yes, I think that ... the people who voted for me twice deserve to be able to go somewhere and see my name on something.”
The former mayor will attend the dedication ceremony Friday. The block, where Goode currently lives, will remain North 59th Street but a sign will be added above the street signs that read: W. Wilson Goode, Sr. Way.
After years of tension between the MOVE organization and the city, the climax was May 13, 1985.
A daylong siege of the MOVE’s fortified row home at 6221 Osage Ave. led to police dropping a bomb on the house. The resulting inferno killed 11 MOVE members, five of them children, and scorched 61 homes, leaving dozens of residents displaced.
‘I own what happened’
Not a day goes by when Goode doesn’t think of May 13, 1985.
But Goode, a life-long public servant who rose from block captain to mayor, said his legacy was more than any one day.
“The people who died pains me every single day,” he said. “But I don’t want to be defined only as that.”
Although Goode approved sending police to arrest MOVE members, Goode maintained he neither approved dropping the bomb nor allowing the fire to burn.
As Goode has said many times over the years, he would have vetoed those proposals if they were presented to him, but a poor communication apparatus prevented that.
Goode was not at the scene that day. The senior official directing the operation was then-City Managing Managing Director Leo Brooks, alongside police and fire commissioners.
“No one called me up and said to me, ‘We’re going to take a helicopter and we’re going to fly over the house and we’re going to drop an explosion in a bag down on the bunker,’” Goode said.
But the former mayor has a lot of regrets.
“I apologize for having appointed a police commissioner who would design a plan to drop a C-4 bag on a roof of a house with children and adults living in it,” he said. “I regret that I appointed a fire commissioner who let the police commissioner not put the fire out. I regret that the result of that was people losing their lives and MOVE members losing their lives, five children and six adults, and I regret people on Osage Avenue losing their homes, but with it, priceless possessions.
“I regret that my administration, people that I appointed, let the citizens of the city down by allowing that to happen on my watch,” Goode continued. “And as someone who is ultimately in charge, and made all the appointments on that day, I humbly apologize for the failure of people I appointed to carry out their responsibility in a way that would be consistent in a way that would have been consistent with what I would have done had I been there,”
The only adult to survive the blaze was Ramona Africa, and the only child, Birdie Africa, then 13. Ramona Africa was arrested, served seven years in prison, and now lives in the Philadelphia area. Birdie Africa died in 2013.
After the MOVE bombing, Goode went on to win a second term in office.
He then served serve as deputy assistant secretary of education in the U.S. Department of Education and is now president and chief financial officer of Amachi, a faith-based program for mentoring children of incarcerated parents; is an ordained minister; and serves as chairman of the Philadelphia Leadership Foundation, among other things.
That single day, Goode said, won’t hinder him from helping others.
“I own what happened, I’m manning up to all of that, but I’m not going to not do anything to keep working toward what I’ve always worked towards, which is helping people achieve better in that regard,” Goode said.
West Philadelphia residents will launch a campaign to rescind the renaming.
Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, a resident of Overbrook Farms who organized a community meeting about the issue this week, said residents will work toward pressuring City Council to reverse the honorary dedication.
In addition, they will seek to change the policy that allows council members to propose street dedications without input from residents.
“The policy should be that you have to have a consensus from the community,” she said during the meeting at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church Wednesday. “This doesn’t just impact that street.”
Sullivan-Ongoza said that residents feared the street will become a target of protests and vandalism, and lead to other negative quality of life issues.
Some, however, supported renaming the street for Goode.
Among them was Crystal Morris, a Wynnfield resident who lives near where the street will be renamed.
“He was the first African-American mayor. He has done good; he made a bad decision,” Morris said at the community meeting, but she disagreed with the renaming policy.
Jones has said he regretted not reaching out to the community first and underestimated residents’ reactions, but refused to revoke the dedication.
Jones said he was committed to working with the community toward restorative justice.
“I’d like at the end of this, something good ... to come out of it,” Jones said in an interview Thursday. “And if it’s restorative justice and dealing with injustice that their (Africa) family faced, I know Mayor Goode made an offer, and I’m making that offer, too.”
Goode said he was committed to working toward the release of the six remaining MOVE members from prison, who were sentenced for the 1978 killing of a Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp.
“I’m willing to work with them (MOVE members) to the extent that I can be any influence,” he said. “That I can write letters, that I can talk with folk, I’m willing to say all of them have served more than enough time. I thought the sentences were excessive.”
Nine MOVE members originally were sentenced to 30-100 years in prison for Ramp’s killing. To date, Debbie Africa has been the only member paroled; two others have died in prison.