Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones never talked to anyone in his district before he proposed naming a neighborhood street after the city's first Black mayor.
If he had, he might have discovered many residents didn't want a street named after the mayor who managed the city Police Department during the 1985 MOVE bombing, said Maisha Sullivan-Ongoza, a resident of Overbrook Farms.
“This is disrupting the community,” she said. “No one wants it in this immediate community.”
Sullivan-Ongoza said she and longtime MOVE member Pam Africa organized a public meeting to discuss plans to rename the 2400 block of North 59th Street for former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr. It will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Pinn Memorial Baptist Church, 2251 N. 54th St.
Community members also plan to protest the street renaming ceremony on Friday morning, said MOVE member Michael Africa Jr., son of Debbie Africa.
Michael Africa, who is not organizing the protest, said during a phone interview Tuesday that Goode should not be publicly recognized with a street naming.
“I don’t think that people should be celebrated in that kind of way without people knowing full who they are and what they represent or what they’re about,” Michael Africa said.
Goode, the city’s 95th mayor, served between 1984 and 1992. He oversaw the Philadelphia Police Department’s response to the MOVE organization’s fortified row home at 6221 Osage Ave. on May 13, 1985.
Police fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition that day and dropped a bomb on the row home. The resulting blaze killed 11 members of the MOVE group, five of them children, and destroyed 61 homes.
Ramona Africa was the only adult to survive the blaze; Birdie Africa, then 13, was the only child who managed to get out of the house. Ramona Africa was arrested, served seven years in prison, and now lives in the Philadelphia area. Birdie Africa died in 2013.
Goode was re-elected to a second term after the bombing. He later went on to serve as deputy assistant secretary of education in the U.S. Department of Education for seven years in the Clinton administration. Goode, 79, is now the 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.
The block of North 59th Street that would be renamed W. Wilson Goode Way is only about 3 miles from the site of the bombing.
Sullivan-Ongoza said hearing news of the renaming was like "peeling a scab off an old sore."
“There’s still a lot of unresolved feelings and pain and trauma related to this incident, and this just dug it back up again,” she said.
Sullivan-Ongoza said she knows Goode has done good since the bombing, "but that doesn't counter the death and destruction. People are traumatized."
Michael Africa said, "This thing is a runaway train. … People are still mourning — not just MOVE."
Jones said he hoped that the street naming would begin a discussion and lead to resolution.
“Obviously, that wound did not heal properly and this might be an opportunity to have that dialogue and forgiveness and at least discussion today,” Jones said.
When Jones put forth the resolution to rename the street, council members Cherelle Parker, Derek Green, Mark Squilla and Jannie Blackwell supported it. The City Council approved the resolution in June.
Jones said he put forward the street renaming because Goode was a mentor of his, but added the caveat: “Sometimes examples are ones to be followed, and others are cautionary tales."
When asked why he didn’t reach out to the community about the renaming, Jones said: “Those are the things that I probably in retrospect would have done differently. But what I am saying is that I had estimated that Dr. Rev. Goode would not be as controversial today as ... 30 years ago. I underestimated that."
Goode did not respond to a call for comment.
Michael D'Onofrio: 215-893-5782, email@example.com