Jannie Blackwell: City Council assistant

Posted: May 06, 2010

JANNIE BLACKWELL was administrative assistant to her husband, City Councilman Lucien Blackwell, whose West Philadelphia councilmanic district included the Osage Avenue MOVE house bombed by police, and the square block of neighboring houses that were destroyed by the resulting fire.

1985: While her husband met with Mayor Goode on the MOVE conflict, Jannie Blackwell was at home on Melville Street near Locust, two miles from the MOVE house, when the bomb was dropped on it.

Quote: "I walked out my door and there was smoke all over. You saw this black sky and it smelled like fire everywhere. Oh, it was a very sad [day]!"

2010: Today, Blackwell, 64, is sitting in her late husband's former Council seat. She was elected in 1991, after Lucien resigned the seat to run for mayor.

"MOVE is always a part of me because every MOVE house has been in my district, then and now," she says. "They're still there.

"My husband was shocked after it happened because he had been so involved talking with the MOVE people for so many years," Blackwell said.

She remembered a 1976 dinner meeting at the MOVE house with an unforgettable moment.

"We had typical black folks' food: fried chicken, potato salad, watermelon," Blackwell said. "They took us into the basement and showed us a cardboard box, sitting on its side with dirt and orange peelings around it. It was dark, and we walked in and out quickly, so we didn't see it for long. They said there was a dead baby in the box and that the police killed their baby during a confrontation." [The MOVE claim was never confirmed.]

"After the bomb, the houses they rebuilt on Pine Street were OK, but Osage Avenue is still in limbo today," Blackwell said.

"The Osage residents took the city to court back then, and they were awarded money, but a lot of them wouldn't take it. They want the city to give them much more to make them whole. It's still in limbo, still under a legal cloud.

"If I were to walk down that block of Osage today, believe me, I'd get phone calls tonight and they'd say, 'I understand you were on my block today. What do you want? What's going on?'

"Certainly, the neighbors didn't ask for that tragedy. They want what they consider will make them whole after going through all that pain and suffering. I don't know if the system is ever going to give them what they want."

-Dan Geringer

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