Soundtrack: 2Pac “Dear Mama”
I want to shed light on two most unfortunate results of our 450 year sojourn as Afrikans in the wilderness of North America. One result has been that we don’t recognize how rich of a culture we have; and we don’t celebrate our successes and our great ones nearly enough. Another related result has been that we have adopted our colonizers’ attitude toward women, and therefore we have never given the proper credit to our Sheroes and Heroines for their relentless work toward carving out a space in this Hell hole where we can feel like full human beings.
Fannie Lou Hamer is one of those Sheroes who has been overlooked by our community. She is sometimes mentioned as a footnote in the Mississippi freedom struggle for her role in creating the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. But we don’t generally talk about just how big of a deal it was to challenge the Mississippi Democratic crackers in such an open fashion. Nor do we ever see Black History Month presentations about the Freedom Farm initiative that Fannie Lou Hamer gave her entire life to, working to ensure that poor Afrikan people would never have to go hungry. We have to do better about honoring her legacy.
Another of our Sheroes is Ella Jo Baker. Ms. Baker first came into prominence in the 1930’s as a leader of the Young Negroes’ Cooperative League. The League was a national organizing effort to create cooperatively owned businesses and jobs with a livable wage for our people during the height of the Great Depression. Ella Baker later went on to be a mentor and counselor to the biggest names of the Black Liberation Movement. She was a field secretary with the NAACP throughout the 1940’s. In 1957, she moved to Atlanta to bring some organization to Martin Luther King’s new Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When the sit-in movement began in 1960 and evolved into the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, it was Ella Baker who taught them how to organize people and gave them the strategies that would make SNCC so successful throughout the South. Her influence was reflected in the nickname she acquired: “Fundi,” a Swahili word meaning a person who teaches a craft to the next generation. We do ourselves a major disservice by not showering Ms. Baker with the utmost of praise at every given opportunity.
But I was inspired to write these words at this time because yesterday, July 27th, was the 119th birth anniversary of the one and only Queen Mother Moore. She was born Audley Moore, in 1898, in New Iberia, Louisiana to Ella and St. Cry Moore. Moore’s parents passed away before she completed the fourth grade. Following their deaths, she dropped out of school and moved to New Orleans with her two younger sisters, supporting them by working as a hairdresser.
She continued to educate herself, reading the works of authors like Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. When Marcus Garvey came to New Orleans to speak in 1917, an 18-year-old Moore was in the audience. She was carrying two firearms because Garvey had been arrested the night before and the community was determined that no further foul play would occur on their watch. After that day she became a very devoted follower of Garvey. She moved to Harlem in 1922 to work in the headquarters of Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Though Garvey was deported in 1927 and his movement waned afterwards, Queen Mother Moore was just getting started.
In 1933, she joined the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA). She was inspired by their position that a revolution was necessary in this country and she was interested in the theory they had about the Black Belt South. At the time, leading Communist theorists challenged Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa approach by saying that Afrikans in America should take control over the southeastern portion of this country where our Ancestors had lived and toiled and died for hundreds of years.
Queen Mother Moore ran as a communist for New York’s state assembly in 1938. She began to have tension with the communists throughout the 40’s as she pushed them to do more concrete work around the rhetoric of a revolution in the South for Black empowerment. She left the CPUSA in 1950 and founded a new group, the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW); feminist and revolutionary and Black nationalist and Pan African.
In 1957, Moore and the UAEW began to push the issue of reparations for the oppression of Afrikans in America. They began a campaign to encourage our people to file a formal reparations claim with the U.S. government before the end of 1963 (100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation). To advance this agenda, she moved to Philadelphia and led the National Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee (NEPOC) in 1962. Tasked with planning the celebration of the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Moore and her followers converted the commemoration into an opportunity to develop a national reparations campaign. The NEPOC developed a reparations claim for approximately 36 million dollars in back pay to be used for emigration back to Africa for those who chose that, and cultural and economic development for those who wanted to remain in America.
In 1960, Queen Mother started providing counsel to Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X of the Nation of Islam (NOI). Even though she and Elijah Muhammad disagreed on many things, Elijah did adopt her idea of what has come to be called the “five-state solution.” Prior to that time, the NOI was very vague in their calls for separation from the whites of this country. Queen Mother Moore gave them a concrete solution of calling for the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana to be given to Black people as a territory of our own, independent of the United States. Malcolm especially latched onto this idea and developed it even further after he broke away from the NOI, teaching in great depth about how land is the basis of revolution. That point became the prime message of those who sought to continue Malcolm’s legacy after his assassination; leading to the establishment of the Republic of New Afrika in 1968.
When a group called the Malcolm X Society brought together Black nationalists from all over the country on March 31, 1968, they decided to declare their independence from the United States, forming the Republic of New Afrika, and laying claim to the above mentioned five states. The name “New Afrika” was chosen primarily because it was what Queen Mother Moore wanted to call us. Her status as an elder gave her the cache to give the final word on what our name would be. She was also one of the first people to actually sign the declaration of independence. She was also the architect of the role that the call for reparations played in the overall program of the Republic of New Afrika.
Moore took her first of many trips to Africa in 1972 to attend the funeral of former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. During that trip, members of the Ashanti ethnic group, gave her the title of Queen Mother. Everyone who knew her enthusiastically embraced calling her that for the rest of her life.
She worked tirelessly throughout the 70’s and 80’s, promoting the cause of reparations and helping Black people to see ourselves as the nation of people that we already are. She finally began to slow down a bit once she turned around 90 years old. Her last public appearance was at the Million Man March, at the age of 97. She was one of only five women invited to speak at that historic event. On May 2, 1997 Queen Mother Moore passed away at the age of 98 from natural causes in a Brooklyn nursing home.
When she was asked in 1995 how she wants to be remembered, Queen Mother replied: “I want to live forever.” And it is up to us to make sure that she does indeed live forever. We can never cease to lift up the name and the spirit of our Holy Ancestor, Queen Mother Moore.