"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.