“Our purpose in life is to leave a legacy for our children and our children’s children. For this reason, we must correct history that at present denies our humanity and self-respect.”
A legendary freedom fighter, Queen Mother Moore was an African-American civil rights leader and a black nationalist who founded the African American Cultural Foundation, Inc., which led the fight against usage of the slave term “Negro”. Born Audley Moore in New Iberia, Louisiana, she acquired the appellation, Queen Mother, on her first trip to Ghana, when she attended the funeral of Kwame Nkrumah in 1972. Moore was at the forefront of the struggle for over 60 years. She worked with Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born black nationalist leader, and his Back-to-Africa movement; and was also a powerful advocate of reparations for slavery. Moore’s last public appearance was at the Million Man March in October 1995, where she was one of only five invited female speakers to address the historic demonstration.
Moore was born to Ella and St. Cry Moore on July 27, 1898, in a small town just outside of New Orleans. Both her parents died when she was very young; her mother Ella Johnson dying in 1904 when she was six. Her grandmother, Nora Henry, had been enslaved at birth, the daughter of an African woman who was raped by her enslaver. Moore’s grandfather was lynched, leaving her grandmother with five children with Moore’s mother as the youngest. Forced to quit school in the fourth grade, Moore studied to be a hairdresser to take care of her sisters. Largely self-educated, she was inspired by the writings of Frederick Douglass and by Garvey’s oratory, which she first heard in New Orleans. She was also fond of Nelson Mandela’s dictum, “The struggle is my life.”
Moore often talked about how the police in and around New Orleans used to routinely round up Black men for vagrancy if they were just standing on a corner talking. She also told how the police would raid Fish Fries and arrest all the Black men only to return later and rape the Black women. Moore was also deeply impacted by what she saw happening in the years during and after World War I–the extreme racism the Black troops faced during and after the war and the racist pogroms unleashed against Black people in cities all over the country after the war.
In the 1920s, stirred by Garvey’s pride in African heritage, Moore and her two sisters went to Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. In Harlem, Moore became a leading figure in the civil rights movement and worked for a variety of causes. She became a leader and a life member of the UNIA until the movement’s collapse in 1927. Through Garvey, Moore was first exposed to African history.
Moore often regaled listeners with a story about the first time she encountered Marcus Garvey, when he came to speak to Black people in New Orleans:
Garvey was arrested before he had a chance to speak. Immediately the Black community mobilize and forced the authorities to release Garvey the next day. When Garvey showed up to speak at the local Longshoremen’s Hall, the hall was packed with Black people and whyte cops. In a 1973 interview with Black Scholar magazine Moore told the rest of the story: “Everybody said, ‘He’ll speak tonight. Believe me, he’ll speak tonight.’ And they went and bought ammunition. Bullets. I had a suitcase full. My husband had a suitcase full. I had two guns–one in my bosom and one in my pocketbook. My husband had a 45. Everybody was told and everybody knew they had to come armed. We wanted that freedom.” When Garvey began to speak, the police threatened to arrest him again. Moore continued: “At that point, everybody stood on the benches, every gun came out. Every gun said ‘Speak, Garvey, speak.’ That was 1920. Just in case you think the whyte folks had us cowered down in those days in the South. And then Garvey said: ‘And as I was saying….’ The police filed out of there like little puppy dogs wagging their tails. They knew they would have been slaughtered in that hall that night. Because nobody was afraid to die. You’ve got to be prepared to lose your life in order to gain your life.”
from, Brian Lanker, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, 1989.
In 1933, she joined the Communist Party because it rallied around the idea of self-determination for Blacks. Moore rose to become a member of the party’s Central Committee. In those years she worked closely with renowned cultural artists and activists like Paul Robeson and Lena Horne. Moore used the information and skills she acquired through the party to address the needs of the Harlem community by organizing rent strikes against abusive landlords, fighting evictions, agitating for Black political representation, prisoner rights, and the integration of the armed forces. She helped form the Harriet Tubman Association, which worked to organize Black women workers including domestic workers. Eventually, she resigned from the Communist Party in disillusionment after they changed their position on self-determination of African Americans in the South’s Black Belt.
For most of the 1950s and 1960s, Moore was the best-known advocate of African-American reparations. In 1957, Moore presented a petition to the United Nations and a second in 1959, arguing for self-determination, against genocide, for land and reparations, making her an international advocate. Interviewed by E. Menelik Pinto, Moore explained the petition, in which she asked for 200 billion dollars to monetarily compensate for 400 years of slavery. The petition also called for compensations to be given to African Americans who wish to return to Africa and those who wish to remain in America.
In Southern California, Moore founded the Reparations Committee for the Descendants of American Slaves. As the leader of the Reparations Committee, she published an extensive analysis of reparations: Why Reparations? Reparations Is the Battle Cry for the Economic and Social Freedom of More than 25 Million Descendants of American Slaves.
In Why Reparations, Moore defined reparations, established a historical basis for restitution and laid out her program for payment distribution. For the Louisiana-born activist, reparations were a means for “amends or compensation” for the “loss or damage” of African American lives and labor. Moore claimed that her call for “money damages, for the loss of their ancestors’ fair share of property which accrued by reason of their skills and labors” was not “without apt precedents in the field of law and nations.” She cited payments from West Germany and Finland, as well as the United States’ compensation of Japanese Americans, as evidence that reparations were a standard practice.
Moore actively promoted reparations until her death in 1996. In 1994, she addressed a conference in Detroit of the the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, where she declared, in a voice gone soft and husky with age: “Reparations. Reparations. Keep on. Keep on. We’ve got to win.”
In addition, Moore was also a founding member of the Commission to Eliminate Racism, Council of Churches of Greater New York. In organizing this commission, she staged a 24-hour sit-in for three weeks.
Taking the first of many trips to Africa in 1972, she was given the regal title “Queen Mother” by members of the Ashanti people in Ghana, an honorific which became her informal name in the United States. She also attended the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, according to her family.
Queen Mother Moore died in a Brooklyn nursing home from natural causes at the age of 97. Her husband, Frank Warner died in 1967. She was survived by a son, Thomas O. Warner of Philadelphia, five grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Queen Mother Moore is remembered for her active participation in many historical struggles. She was:
-A member of Malcolm X Organization of Afro-American Unity and a teacher to Malcolm X, helping to further the evolution of his revolutionary black nationalist consciousness.
-A founder and member of the central committee of the African People’s Party, one of the more disciplined revolutionary Black Nationalist organizations to emerge from the Black Power era of the late 1960’s.
-The founder and president of the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women.
-A life member of both the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the National Moorish Council of Negro Women.
-The founder of the Committee for Reparations for Descendants of U.S. Slaves.
-A founding member of the Republic of New Africa to fight for self-determination, land, and reparations.
-A founding member of the Commission to Eliminate Racism, Council of Churches of Greater New York. In organizing this commission, she staged a twenty-four-hour sit-in for three weeks.
-A founder of the African American Cultural Foundation, Inc., which led the fight against usage of the slave term “Negro.”
-A member of the Communist Party to fight the Scottsboro Boys’ imprisonment.
-The founder and president of the Harriet Tubman Association.
In addition, Queen Mother Moore:
-Led the fight to end Jim Crow in big league baseball.
-Led protests against the Apollo Theatre for showing racist shows and led protests against the Alhambra Theatre for showing a white man as Hannibal.
-Helped organize the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations – later joined with the AFL to become the AFL-CIO) unions and the Work Progress Administration. She forced the WPA to employ black women (who were previously relegated to domestic work) on sewing projects.
-Tried to organize a domestic workers union.
-Was arrested three times during her struggle-first for defending the rights of African American children to use the public Colonial Park pool without bringing along their birth certificates; another time for defending a peddler from arrest for selling tomatoes to support his seven little children; the third time for trying to register people to vote in Green County, New York.
-Led the fight with Assemblyman William Andrews, the Reverend Ethelring Brown, and Ludlow Werner to get a congressional district in Harlem in the 1930s.
-Helped to organize the Maritime Union under Ferdinand Smith.
-Led the fight to break the Jim Crow policy in the Coast Guard and became the first black stewardess to be hired. She helped stranded seamen in London and held a mass meeting in 1946 in a hotel lobby in London for the management’s refusal of accommodations due to racism.
-Campaigned for medical aid and funds for Ethiopia after the Italians attacked. She organized 500 nurses to sterilize sheets that were collected from laundries for bandages for the wounded Ethiopian soldiers.
-Investigated the condition of little girls, ages twelve to fourteen, who gave birth while in a mental institution in Louisiana. The girls had been raped by their white male attendants.
-Was encouraged by Dr. A.L. Reddick and Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, both of whom were eminent educators, to take to public speaking in defense of her people’s liberty. Before this she only spoke at street meetings from a box or a ladder on the corner of 125th Street and 7th Avenue.
-Organized the first rent strike on Sugar Hill (Harlem, NY) in 1930 and restored tenants to their apartments after having been evicted.
-Supported the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and took a delegation to the British Embassy to protest the ultimatum given to the Mau Mau to surrender or be annihilated.
-Fought to save from execution the Martinville Seven and helped to organize street meetings and demonstrations. She helped to free Mae Mallory imprisoned for defending herself from an attack of the KKK in Monroe, North Carolina.
-Presented a petition to the United Nations in 1957 for self-determination of African Americans and against genocide. She presented a second petition in 1959 to the United Nations for land and reparations.
-Toured throughout the country by car in 1962 begging gas from gas station to gas station to alarm our people to prepare for our Emancipation Proclamation Centennial by presenting a judicial document for reparations and self-determination proclaiming us a non-self-governing nation.
-Organized a soup kitchen in Harlem for African students after learning two students had died from malnutrition after they received their Ph.D.
-Helped to organize Africa House in New York City with Mrs. Mattie Hunter for African students.
-Participated in the North American Regional Planning Conference (held at Kent State University in 1973) leading up to the Sixth Pan-African Congress. In 1974, she attended this international Congress in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This Congress was the first-ever international meeting of African people held on the soil of Mother Africa.
-At the request of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, she became a life member of the National Council of Negro Women.
-Helped to organize the Unemployed Councils when millions were on the brink of starvation.
-Presented a demand for reparations to President Kennedy which caused him to say: “Ask not what this country can do for you, but what you can do for it.”
When she was 75 years old and taking stock of her life so far, Moore sum it up like this. “Yes, I have done my best to measure up, to qualify as a woman in the Black movement. I have done my best.”
During Black History Month 2002, on February 6, the Queen Mother Moore Reparations Resolution for Descendants of Enslaved Africans in New York City bill was submitted to the City Council.
Queen Mother Moore: A Life of Struggle