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  • "We Owe a Debt to Her, She Taught Us How to Think"Eloise Moore and Her Impact on Queen Mother Moore and Twentieth-Century Grassroots Black Nationalism
  • Erik S. McDuffie (bio)

Eloise Moore was excited. She bolted into the Harlem apartment of her sister who later became known as "Queen Mother" Audley Moore.1 Looking back decades later, she recalled that her sister exclaimed, "'Harlem is ablaze.' And I said, 'What do you mean, ablaze?'" She said, "'A parade. There's a big parade, there are thousands of people there for the freedom of the Scottsboro boys.'"2 Queen Mother Moore described a massive protest in Harlem in the early 1930s in support of the "The Scottsboro Boys." They were nine African American young men aged twelve to twenty-one who in March 1931 were falsely accused of raping two white women aboard a freight train in route from Chattanooga to Memphis. Authorities apprehended the youth near Scottsboro, Alabama. Once there, they were tried by an all-white, Jim Crow court. Eight of the young men were sentenced to death. In response, the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) organized a worldwide amnesty movement demanding the freedom of the young men during the height of the Great Depression. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, the Scottsboro case came to symbolize Jim Crow, lynching, imperialism, poverty, and racial oppression on a global scale. Due to the efforts of Communists and their allies, the Scottsboro youth were spared the death penalty.3

Audley Moore apparently had never taken part in a Scottsboro action prior to Eloise Moore's appeal.4 In response to her sister's urging, Audley Moore [End Page 135] immediately left the apartment and headed to the streets with her sister. The parade changed Audley Moore's life. She recalled:

I'd never seen a demonstration in my life. . . . Well anyway, I went . . . and there were thousands of people, there was banners, red banners, the hammer and sickle, things I'd never seen, big placards, "Death to the Lynchers," "Free the Scottsboro Boys," "End Jim Crow."

She witnessed thousands of marchers—black and white—demonstrating in support of the Scottsboro defendants and listening to black Communist leader James Ford denounce imperialism in Africa. The demonstration inspired her. It also affirmed her deep racial consciousness. Born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1898 and coming of age in New Orleans, Audley Moore, like her sister, were working-class women who had been devout followers of the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey since the early 1920s. Garvey's call for race pride, black self-determination, armed defense, Pan-African unity, and his leadership of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) captured the imaginations of millions of black people around the world, including the Moore sisters.5

Reading the Scottsboro parade through Garveyite lenses, Audley Moore eventually joined the Communist Party. She saw it as a powerful vehicle to advance black self-determination and African liberation. Still, she remained a life-long Garveyite. In the 1930s and 1940s, she emerged as a leading figure in the Harlem Communist Party. In the early 1950s, she broke from the Communist Party and reinvented herself into an ardent black nationalist who embraced all things African. By the early 1960s she became known as "Queen Mother Moore," who was revered by young black militants as an elder black nationalist. Her reputation was well-deserved. She was one of the most revered figures in twentieth-century black nationalism, Pan-Africanism, and Communism, who was critical to launching the modern reparations movement and Black Power.6

In order to understand Queen Mother Moore and her political evolution we have to look at her younger sister. She was instrumental to the ideological development of Queen Mother Moore and black nationalists such as Malcolm X from the 1920s onwards. Additionally, Eloise Moore's life reveals the alternative political trajectories the Moore sisters followed as activists. Despite her importance in influencing Queen Mother Moore and twentieth-century US black nationalism, the life and activism of Eloise Moore has received little scholarly attention. Certainly, Queen Mother Moore recognized her sister's historical significance. Looking back, the veteran activists emphasized: "Elouse [sic] was...


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