Janet Holloway Africa is a member of the black liberation group MOVE, a mother and part of the MOVE 9, nine MOVE members all falsely accused for the murder of a police officer who was shot by friendly fire when the Philadelphia police raided their house. She has served 40 years in prison despite her innocence. In May 2018, her sister Debbie Africa was freed on parole. A habeas lawsuit was filed on behalf of Janet because she was denied parole unjustly. She was granted parole in May 2019 and released on the 25th, three days before her habeas was scheduled for a hearing.
Janet was born in New Jersey, 1951 to a single mom of twenty. Her mother and grandmother worked tirelessly to support Janet and her siblings, but eventually her mother gave her to Janet’s aunt so she could have a better life.
With her aunt Janet was taken care of, able to take dance lessons, play on sports teams, and all in all enjoy life. When she was 11, Janet’s mother had been able to get her life on track more and was able to be in Janet’s life again. She spent the next few years back and forth between her aunt and mother.
Janet lived a comfortable, suburban lifestyle but after graduating high school she was still not satisfied with her life. She continued on, working several different jobs but never really happy with what she was doing. She met a man, they got married and together had a daughter.
In Janet’s words she recalls,
“I remember sitting in my rocking chair with my newborn baby in my arms feeling the same way my mother felt, wanting something better for my daughter; wanting her to be safe, happy, free of the hurt, pain disappointment and disillusion of this cold, cruel, prejudiced system.”
Janet tried to find the answers to her questions in religion, but was against left disappointed in people’s hypocrisy and double lives.
Janet Joins MOVE
She heard from a friend about a group called MOVE. They were having a rap session coming up and Janet decided to attend. She was instantly moved by the words of MOVE founder John Africa.
“I can’t even put into words the feeling I got hearing John Africa’s teaching. It gripped me in a way that I’ve never never been gripped before. For the first time in my life I felt there was hope for me and there was reasons why I was so detached, dissatisfied, and unhappy.”
Janet went on to join MOVE and became an outspoken activist and organizer.
Police Attack Janet
As MOVE began to grow in numbers and strength they faced increased harrassment and abuse at the hands of the police. Late in the evening on May 9, 1974, Janet was walking with fellow MOVE sister Leesing Africa to the corner store. They were both pregnant at the time. On their way to the store they were stopped and questioned by police officers who became abusive and slammed Janet stomach-first against a police car. The two were subjected to a very rough handling and jailed overnight without food or water. Both women lost their babies due to miscarriages. MOVE immediately began demonstrating at the 18th District police station where the incident occurred.
Janet was sentenced to 30 years in prison for 3rd degree murder. This is despite the fact that nine people all killing one police officer with a single shot defies logic. Also, the direction of the bullet into the officer’s head makes it impossible for it to have come from the MOVE house and police admitted that there was heavy police fire coming from several directions during the raid.
Life in Prison
Soon before Janet was up for parole for the first time she found herself caught up in an attempted set up to deny her parole. She was stopped by a male prison guard one day and he told her she needed to be searched. She consented, but requested that a female officer conduct the procedure as it is against her religious beliefs to have a man feeling her body. He agreed and called over a female guard, to which the female guard disagreed saying “she’s nothing special” and insisting instead that she be put in the hole for misconduct. This, despite the fact that it is in fact prison policy for female prisoners to be able to request that female guards conduct searches.
Janet, along with the other members of the MOVE 9 have been repeatedly denied parole, despite having served 40 years for a crime they did not commit.
- Mumia Abu-Jamal Audio Commentary on Janet’s Harrassment by Prison Guards
- Janet Africa speaking out against Philly Police Chief Rizzo’s harassment of MOVE
In 2018, the PA Dept of Corrections instituted a restrictive mail policy where all mail to prisoners must be sent through a mail processing facility in Florida where all correspondence is scanned, copied and then the copy is mailed to the prisoner. There is an active campaign to get Gov. Wolf to repeal the restrictive policy so that friends and family member can send mail such as greeting cards again.