- "Somebody Has to Pay"Audley Moore and the Modern Reparations Movement
"You don't know what i went through to bring the idea of reparations to my people," remarked Audley Moore in a 1973 interview.1 Her statement would prove prophetic. Over four decades and using multiple approaches, Moore successfully integrated claims for reparations for African Americans into the national psyche and the black freedom movement. From 1957, when she created the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW), a New Orleans-based, civil rights organization, until her death in 1997, Moore dedicated her life to developing reparations as both a political stance and a social movement. Her reparations advocacy traversed multiple organizations, geographical locations, and ideological affiliations. She consistently argued for reparations as a form of restitution for the constitutive, collective, and devastating effects of slavery and Jim Crow, claiming that repayment was foundational to social transformation in the United States and the world.
Moore's role in reparations organizing has been acknowledged but not thoroughly investigated. Studies of African Americans' activism often recognize her role in introducing reparations into grassroots black organizing.2 Yet few explore her activism in-depth, taking into account her writings on redress, reparations conventions, and mentorship of young activists who would later take up the cause. Legal and international histories of repayment also note Moore's dedication to "demand[ing] reparations in the international area."3 However, she remains virtually absent in larger examinations of how African Americans internationalized their demands for equality or redress. Several factors may have contributed to her marginalization. Although Moore's advocacy was substantial and global, it was not confined to a singular organization, making this facet of her activism difficult to recover. In addition, Moore did [End Page 108] not deploy a singular legal, economic, or cultural justification for her reparation claims. Instead she endorsed a range of rhetoric and rationales for repayment, rendering her activism and theorizing difficult to categorize. Finally, Moore organized with grassroots and women-led organizations; she also framed her calls for restitution through the lenses of black nationalism and welfare rights. These reparations formulations are not always legible within mainstream, male-led conceptions of what constituted reparations activism or a legitimate reparations claim. Yet, recovering Moore's unconventional reparations activism can provide valuable insight into how working-class African Americans formulated their demands for repayment, as well as the ways in which they have used reparations advocacy as a conduit through which to engage in self-determining activism and identify with other members of the African diaspora.
Moore's claims for repayment reveal the centrality of reparations to the late-twentieth-century black freedom struggle; they also elucidate and complicate dimensions of black protest. She advocated for reparations in the midst of the Cold War in the 1950s, during the Black Power insurgency of the 1960s and 1970s, and amid the social justice struggles of the 1980s and 1990s. Charting Moore's reparations advocacy over the second half of the twentieth century affirms her ability to integrate reparations into the organizational agendas of liberal groups interested in civil rights reform as well as radical organizations composed of activists with an explicitly antiracist, anticapitalist, and antiimperialist agenda. Furthermore, her prominent role in advocating for reparations through international meetings and tribunals, as well as her attempts to galvanize support for redress in African countries, reflects another facet of black women's internationalism and her use of reparations activism as a unifying political, social, and cultural program for the African diaspora. Finally, unearthing Moore's grassroots reparations activism alongside mainstream, middle-class, and largely male-led reparations initiatives foregrounds the gender and class tensions that were deeply imbedded in the modern reparations movement.
Moore modeled a form of "reparationist" politics. This was a political stance that claimed that the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow systematically destroyed the culture, heritage, and rights of Africans and their descendants, and that these atrocities could only be remedied through extensive economic restitution distributed by way of grassroots networks.4 She called for immediate repayment in multiple forms over her lifetime—including large paydays and African emigration. Moore also viewed reparations activism as a conduit...