“You’ve got to be prepared to lose your life in order to gain your life.”
Queen Mother Moore
Queen Mother Moore, a long time revolutionary activist and fighter against the oppression of Black people, died on Friday, May 7 in Brooklyn, New York. Queen Mother Moore was one person about whom it could truly be said–“the struggle was her life.” For nearly a hundred years she was tireless in her efforts to mobilize other people to stand up with her against the crimes of U.S. imperialism. From fighting against racist oppression inside the U.S. to local community organizing, from fighting against imperialist attacks on Africa to taking part in anti-war mobilizations–Queen Mother Moore was there.
Queen Mother Moore was a Pan Africanist and she drew a lot of inspiration from struggles around the world. Queen Mother Moore’s heart sang whenever she heard of people striking blows against U.S. imperialism–whether it was at home in Harlem or far off in Vietnam, Korea, China, Central America, South America or Africa. Even in the last quarter-century of her life–the years after her 75th birthday–Queen Mother Moore remained active. In 1983 she attended the Women’s Encampment at Seneca Falls, N.Y., a women’s anti-war mobilization. And throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Moore worked to mobilize support for the struggle of the Azanian people against the racist apartheid government in South Africa. She never seemed to rest even when she was out just trying to take a break–there are many stories, including one about how she had no problem standing up in the middle of movies that she found particularly offensive and insulting to Black people and demanding that the theater shut down the film and not leaving until they did or the police came to drag her out.
A Lifetime of Struggle
Queen Mother Moore was born Audley Eloise Moore in a small town just outside of New Orleans in 1898. Moore’s experience growing up–especially the semi-feudal oppression and horrible terror unleashed against Black people in the South–shaped her views. One of Moore’s grandfathers was lynched and one of her grandmothers, a former slave, was raped by a white man. Moore herself was forced to leave school and go to work after the 4th grade. 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 face of all this, Moore jumped into the struggle and began what turned into a lifelong search for answers about how to change things. As a young woman Moore hooked up with Marcus Garvey and joined his United Negro Improvement Association. While the Garveyite movement–centered on Black capitalist schemes about going back to Africa–was hardly revolutionary, it did gather a lot of support insofar as it went up in the face of the U.S. imperialists. Moore used to say that what attracted her to Garvey was that he brought Black people a sense of pride and worth when he spoke about their origins in Africa and the history of their peoples and he heated up her anger when he talked about imperialist domination of Africa.
Queen Mother Moore used to tell a story about the time when Marcus Garvey came to speak to Black people in New Orleans. And this story reveals a lot about Moore herself. Garvey was arrested when he arrived in New Orleans even before he had a chance to speak to any Black people. Immediately the Black community began to mobilize against this attack 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 white 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 white 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.”
In the 1920s, Moore left Louisiana and began to search the country for someplace where Black people were free–a search that helped her see how the oppression of Black people and white supremacy wasn’t peculiar to the South but was part of the system that ruled all over the country. As Moore told it: “After the Garvey movement, I went all over looking for freedom. I went to California, for instance. In Santa Monica they charged me $5 for a bottle of soda. They said you should have gone to Chicago. I went to Chicago and found our people living with kerosene lamps, gas lights and one toilet in the hall for everybody. They said, `Oh, you should have gone to Harlem. We got everything sewed up there.’ I went to Harlem and found conditions worse than ever. I was seeking this freedom. It’s terrible when you really don’t know, but at least I knew my people should be together.”
Moore settled in Harlem and stayed there for most of the rest of her life. She threw herself into the struggle of the people there. She became involved in the fight around the Scottsboro case–an infamous case of Black men being framed for rape in Alabama. Inspired by the way this case was fought and the role of the Communist Party in helping to lead it, Moore decided to join the Communist Party, USA. At the same time, Moore was neck deep in organizing community struggles–she organized the first Black rent strikes in New York City and broke the backs of the landlords in Harlem. Moore helped to develop the strategy of organizing the community to move the furniture of people evicted from apartments back inside the apartment and then stand off any attempt by the landlord’s goons to re-evict the people. She helped form the Harriet Tubman Association, which worked to organize Black women workers including domestic workers.
One of the things that attracted Moore to the Communist Party was that in words it was committed to the idea of self-determination for Black people–up to and including the right to secede and form a separate Black republic. When the CP began to back off of confronting the U.S. rulers about the oppression of Black people and soon abandoned the idea of self-determination in words and deeds, Moore left the CP. From there, Moore continued to organize the people and fight the system.
In 1955 she joined with a handful of others to begin a campaign demanding that the U.S. government pay reparations to Black people for slavery and all the oppression brought down on them since then. She hooked up with Malcolm X and joined his Organization of Afro-American Unity and formed countless organizations and alternative schools on her own. It was during this time that she also made her first visit to Africa to attend Kwame Nkrumah’s funeral. And it was during this visit that she was given the honorary name of Queen Mother of the Ashanti people in Ghana.
Queen Mother Moore never became a revolutionary communist. But she hated U.S. imperialism and all the suffering it brought down on Black people and all people around the world. She never stopped fighting against it and searching for some kind of real solution. She often railed against those she saw as selling out to the imperialists, the “Negroes” created by the system. In the 1973 Black Scholar interview she spoke about how she saw the goals of the struggle of Black people. “Those who seek temporary security rather than basic liberty deserve neither…. We began to talk about wanting to be first class citizens. We didn’t want to be second class citizens. You would have sworn that second class was in the Constitution. Also that citizens have to fight for rights. Imagine a citizen having to fight for civil rights! The very thought of it is repulsive. And I resent it and I reject this citizenship that was imposed on me. From the bottom of my heart I reject it. This is the thing that motivates me and keeps me going.”
When Queen Mother Moore began to search the country for freedom in the 1920s and found only more oppression she said, “There wasn’t nothing to do but get in the struggle.” She did this with tremendous passion. And later, when she was 75 years old and taking stock of her life so far, she tried to 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.” The masses of people everywhere are thankful for that and will surely miss a dear, courageous and inspiring friend.
Queen Mother Audley E. Moore
In Honor Of A Warrior Woman
n December 6 and 7, 1991, the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University dedicated the entire third floor of the Center of Pan-African Culture to Queen Mother Audley E. Moore, a “Warrior Woman,” born on July 27, 1898, who devoted her life to active struggle on behalf of all people of African descent. She was honored for having organized on many fronts, from the great influenza epidemic of 1918 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where she worked as a volunteer nurse, to the United Nations, where she presented petitions in the 1950s charging genocide and demanding reparations to descendants of former slaves.
She was born as Audley to Ella and St. Cry Moore on July 27, 1898 in New Iberia, Louisiana. Her grandmother, Nora Henry, was born into slavery, the daughter of an African woman who was raped by her slave master who was a doctor. Her grandfather was lynched before his wife’s eyes leaving Nora Henry with five orphaned children of whom Ella Johnson — mother of Queen Mother Moore — was the youngest. Ella died in 1904.
Queen Mother Moore completed only the third grade of her formal education. Her struggles began at the tender age of twelve fighting the advances of white men in the South . . . Queen Mother has been struggling for seventy-seven years for the human and civil rights of all African people throughout the world which makes her our warrior queen and a living legend.At the grand old age of ninety-eight, she continues to make her home in Harlem.
Some of her efforts — to help our struggle to take us towards self-determination, acquisition of our inheritance in Africa and our just claim for reparations from the United States government — are documented below:
- The founder and president of the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, she is a life member of both the Universal Negro Improvement Association and the National Moorish Council of Negro Women. She joined Marcus Mosiah Garvey‘s Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) while living in Louisiana. She participated in Garvey’s first international convention in New York City, owned stock in the Black Star Line, and came to New York when the UNIA launched the Black Star Line’s first ship.
- She is President-General, World Federation of African People, Inc. She is founder and president of the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, Inc. which led a successful fight to restore 23,000 families to the welfare rolls after they had been ruthlessly cut off by Louisiana authorities. She is the founder of the Committee for Reparations for Descendants of U.S. Slaves. She is a founding member of the Republic of New Africa to fight for self-determination, land, and reparations. She is founder of Mt. Addis Ababa, Inc., envisioned as a facility to totally embrace the cultural, educational, and industrial needs of her people. Through Mr. Roscoe Bradley, her executive vice president, this organization, located at Mt. Addis Ababa, Box 244, Parksville, NY 12768, taught hundreds of children African music, dance, and culture.
- She is Bishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church of Judea. She is 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. She is a founder of the African American Cultural Foundation, Inc., which led the fight against usage of the slave term “Negro.”
- She joined the Republican Party, found them racist, left and joined the Communist Party to fight the Scottsboro Boys’ imprisonment. She led the fight to end Jim Crow in big league baseball. She organized the community with Captain Hugh Mulzac as chairman and the Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as co-chairman. Later realizing the fallacy in this, she apologized to her people. She resigned from the Communist Party in disillusionment after they changed their position on self-determination in the South’s Black Belt.
- She led protests against the Apollo Theatre for showing racist shows and led protests against the Alhambra Theatre for showing a white man as Hannibal. She helped organize CIO unions and the Work Progress Administration. She forced the WPA to employ black women on sewing projects who were previously relegated to domestic work. She also tried to organize a domestic workers union. She was arrested three times during her struggle-first for defending the rights of our 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.
- She led the fight with Assemblyman William Andrews, the Reverend Ethelring Brown, and Ludlow Werner to get a congressional district in Harlem in the 1930s. She helped to organize the Maritime Union under Ferdinand Smith. She also led the fight to break 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. She campaigned for medical aid and funds for Ethiopia after the Italians attacked. She organized 500 nurses to sterilize sheets which were collected from laundries for bandages for the wounded Ethiopian soldiers.
- She investigated the condition of our 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. She 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. She organized the first rent strike on Sugar Hill in 1930 and restored tenants to their apartments after having been evicted. She 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.
- She 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. She presented a petition to the United Nations in 1957 for self-determination and against genocide. She presented a second petition in 1959 to the United Nations for land and reparations. She 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.
- She organized a soup kitchen in Harlem for African students after learning two students had died from malnutrition after they received their Ph.D. She also helped to organize Africa House in New York City with Mrs. Mattie Hunter for African students. She 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. She, at the request of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, became a life member of the National Council of Negro Women. She is the founder and president of the Harriet Tubman Association. She helped to organize the Unemployed Councils when millions were on the brink of starvation. She 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.”
As mentioned earlier, the above represents only “some” of the activities in which Queen Mother Moore has been involved for the past seventy or more years. We are, therefore, very much honored to have her in our presence and to take time out to honor this great African Warrior Woman.
Unfortunately, Queen Mother Audley E. Moore, a life-long “Warrior Woman,” died on May 2, 1997, at the age of 99. We will miss her. May she rest in eternal peace.
SOURCE: This “Biographical Data” was prepared by the Honorable Dr. Deloise Naewoaang Blakely, Deputy Mayor of Harlem, New York, 1993.