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  • Remembering Queen Mother Moore
  • Shafeah M'Balia (bio)

I didn't know it then but Audley "Queen Mother" Moore was to be a major influence on my political life until this day. As a young woman activist coming of age during the late 1960s and early 1970s, she turned out to be the foundation of my ideological development. She gave me a political platform that has lasted to this day: Black people have the right to decide our own destiny (self-determination); self-respect for one's self as a woman and for black people, opposition to all forms of oppression; international solidarity, especially with people of the global South, and the right to reparations for black people's free labor during slavery and sharecropping.

I was raised in a middle-class family in the 1950s and 1960s in South Jamaica, New York and then in the small, black Long Island communities of Amityville and Roosevelt. I had both mother and father at home where the mantra was, "Get your education, stay in school, go to college." This was logical since my father was a teacher and my mother was a clerk at the unemployment office. At the same time, the unspoken lesson was, "Serve the community." They belonged to a black fraternity or sorority and other clubs that partied and raised money for a senior center and youth scholarships. They organized food and clothing drives. They also joined the picket lines to get the Amityville school district to desegregate the new junior high school.

We watched TV about anything that had to do with black people. The defining moments of my life were when I saw the Birmingham, Alabama police sic dogs on black protestors, and when four little girls were murdered when their Birmingham church was bombed. From then on, Daddy and I would debate what direction black folks should go. Early, he maintained a prointegrationist, staunch Democratic Party stance. But over the years, in trying to help young people with their self-image and confidence, he began studying black history. Then he got into African and Egyptian history. In later years, his politics became more militant. [End Page 173]

Looking back, it was probably perfectly logical that I, who had picketed with my parents at age eleven, would, at fifteen, immerse myself in the Black Liberation Movement. It was also logical that I would gravitate towards Queen Mother Moore's strong sense of black nationalist consciousness and resistance, international solidarity, class consciousness, woman consciousness, and her central cause: reparations for black people.

Mother, as I and others eventually called her, was born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1898, she recalled, to a "half-white man who was the product of the rape of her grandmother." She stopped school at the fourth grade by which time both of her parents had died. She trained as a hairdresser, and by age fifteen supported her two younger sisters. During World War I, Mother and her sisters, according to interviews, organized support services for black soldiers when the Red Cross denied them assistance. In the 1920s, she joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Marcus Garvey's organization and movement that promoted the development of institutions by and for the black community under the mantra: One God, One Aim, One Destiny. He organized the first, short-lived, black-owned shipping company, the Black Star Line. Queen Mother claimed that she was one of the first to invest in it.

Mother, her husband, and her sisters moved around looking for work, eventually settling in Harlem, New York. She became an organizer of black domestic workers and a leader of the Harriet Tubman Association, a group that fought against white landlords who evicted black tenants. In the 1930s, she joined the International Labor Defense and then the Communist Party (CP). As a member of the CP, Mother became a street orator. She spoke against Italy's invasion of Ethiopia and in favor of the Scottsboro Boys. She became campaign manager for black Communist Ben Davis and helped him win two successive terms on New York's city council.

When I first saw her, in 1970, she was speaking at what would become...


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