Interview: Queen Mother Moore, Westindian Digest, September 1982

The Black Agenda Review
Interview: Queen Mother Moore, Westindian Digest, September 1982In a 1982 interview, Queen Mother Audley Moore raps on imperialism, neocolonialism, emancipation, and reparations — and the need for Black people to get in our “right mind” to understand our domination.

Audley Moore — better known as Queen Mother Moore — was witness to, and participated in, many of the most important Black political struggles of the twentieth century. Born in New Iberia, Louisiana in 1898, she became a Garveyite as a teenager after hearing Marcus Garvey speak in New Orleans and moved to Harlem for the launch of the Black Star Line . Moore remained a lifelong member of the UNIA. But in the wake of Garvey’s deportation and the decline in strength of the movement, she began organizing with the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and the International Labor Defense. Moore participated in their actions in support of the Scottsboro Boys , their campaigns against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and their fights against housing discrimination and racism. She was also a CPUSA candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1938 and for alderman in 1940. Moore was also the campaign manager for Black communist Ben Davis’ successful 1943 run for the city council of New York. Moore resigned from the Communist Party in 1950 but she worked with Black communists Louise Thompson Patterson, Beulah Richardson, Shirley Graham Du Bois, and others through the short-lived radical organization Sojourners for Truth and Justice .

In the early fifties, Moore returned to Louisiana and joined the Sons and Daughters of Ethiopia, an auxiliary of the UNIA’s New Orleans Division. In 1957, she helped establish the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, a Pan-Africanist organization that advocated for prisoner’s rights and engaged in anti-lynching campains. The organization also successfully fought to restore 23,000 Black and white families to the welfare rolls. With the Harriet Tubman Association, Moore organized domestic workers on wages of fifteen cents an hour wage. She fought for clemency for Black men on death row and contributed to the efforts to obtain a pardon for Lizzie Williams, A black woman sentenced to 218 years in an Alabama prison for perjury. In the late 1960s, Moore was one of the first signers of the Republic of New Africa ‘s Independence Charter, and in the late 1970s, she helped to found the Eloise Moore College of African Studies, Vocational, and Industrial School in Parksville, New York, in memory of her late sister.

As writer and activist Broderick Dunlap has described in a recent essay on the history of the reparations movement for Hood Communis t , Moore was also a critical figure in the development of Black claims for reparations from slavery. Dubbed the mother of the modern reparation s movement, In 1963, Moore formed the Reparations Committee of Descendants of American Slaves and filed a claim with the US federal government seeking reparations for damages on behalf of more than 25 million African Americans. Dunlap notes that for Moore, reparations was a radical alternative to the liberal demand for “civil rights.” Moore saw reparations as a vehicle for Black self-determination and the demand for reparations was both Pan-Africanist and anti-imperialist.

In September, 1982 Moore travelled to London as a guest of the Rastafari organization Tree of Life. While there, she was interviewed by members of the Pan-Afrikan Congress Movement for the journal Westindian Digest. That interview is reproduced below. Though eighty-three years of age, Moore’s mind and memory are sharp while her comments on Black consciousness, imperialism, neocolonialism, emancipation, and freedom are a reminder of Moore’s singular importance as an activist and intellectual. In the interview Moore stated that only when Black people were in the “right mind,” would they be able to understand the “cunning of the monsters that we find ourselves dominated by,” and “stake a claim on these imperialists for reparations for the damage they have done to us.”

Subject to a forthcoming biography by historian Ashley D. Farmer, Moore passed away in a Brooklyn nursing home in 1997. Her last public appearance was in 1995, as one of five women invited to the stage of the Million Man March.

Queen Mother Moore: Her Life and Ideas, Westindian Digest (September 1982).

Westindian Digest: Looking back to the 1930s, do you think Black people have improved in awareness as far as our identity as one people?

Queen Mother Moore: Our national identity is one paramount issue that we have made great strides in. In the 1930s we did not have that. Garvey brought us a sense of oneness, one destiny, the idea of Africa as our Motherland, but Garvey could not give us the philosophy of the restoration of ourselves at that time. We did not take into account in those days the injury and the damage that had been done to us psychologically as a people, so during Garvey’s days we were uniting as Negroes. I maintain that if we gain the world and we are still Negroes it would be to no avail.

Africa has been damaged as well as we have in the west, colonialism has left its ravages throughout the world. In Zimbabwe they fought a heroic struggle under magnificent leadership to win independence. I saw brothers and sisters, and I want to emphasize sisters, come out of the bush for the first time when I attended Prime Minister Robert Mugabe’s inauguration. But my criticism is that they did not carry on a cultural struggle at the same time.

I found they all had European first names, which is a travesty. Their judges were sitting on the Supreme Court, for the first time in the century, with long white British wigs on. When we say freedom I want to know what we are really talking about. We cannot function correctly until we get our right mind.

To get our right mind, to get ourselves in a certain perspective as an African, don’t we need a serious organization based on race?That is not enough, race is not enough — Garvey taught us race. There is something else that has to go with the restoration of our mentality and that is comprehension. We can read something and still not comprehend. Comprehension has been taken away from us.

How do you account for the fact that over 100 years have passed since our emancipation and we have not memorialized our ancestors who perished in the slave trade? We are just oblivious to the horrors and the atrocities that our people have suffered. We haven’t given it a thought and we are prepared to go into the new millennium without doing it.

Our right mind would not permit us not to stake a claim on these imperialists for reparations for the damage they have done to us. I have tried for twenty years to give the brothers in the States reparations but they are prepared to go another hundred years without making these people at least acknowledge their crimes against us. Even if we never get reparations demand should be made, we can ask for no less. England, the States, Italy, Holland, Germany — all were built on our backs, they made their money off the slave trade.

Our right mind would teach us the cunning of the monsters that we find ourselves dominated by. Let’s take Garvey, he taught us that Africa was our motherland, that had been wiped away from us. All those countries that had their tentacles in Africa also had their stooges on Garvey’s board. When they charged him with fraud it wasn’t him! It wasn’t Garvey who bought those ships who were corrupted. I know it to be a fact that they threw tools into the engines when they got out to sea. If we had our right minds we would understand how to protect ourselves. Whatever we acquire can be taken away from us if we haven’t got our right mind. Nothing will flourish, organisation or otherwise, if we don’t get our right mind. If we had 10 million organized with our mental condition we haven’t got anything that the CIA can’t destroy overnight and turn against us.

Now I tell the story of the lion to let you know how we’ve been denatured, dehumanized, and altered, we are no longer what we were. Just like you take the lion out of the wilderness, you condition him and tame him until this young white woman with a bikini on, long hair over one eye and a whip in her hand can confront that beast.

He comes out roaring like a lion, looking like a lion, and he may even still smell like a lion– but he is no longer that beast because he has been tampered with, just like you. Then the white woman takes her head and sticks it in that lion’s mouth and that old fool lets her pull it out. That’s who you are, that mighty warrior, that builder of the pyramids, that great African who gave the world civilization; you are no longer that people, you’ve been altered into functional zombies who no longer know who you are.

We’ve got to understand that the man couldn’t afford to allow us so-called emancipation unless he shackled us mentally so we no longer need a slave master to stand over us with a whip. We do it ourselves, we do his job for him and we do it better than he even could.

What do you see as the basis for organizing our people to take the chains off our minds?

Our people are not joining in and organizing because they can’t. They have us conditioned to believe that we can’t do anything for our own good. Now if you brought Bob Marley or some big stars they would flock to see him. Well, Bob Marley was deep but it could have been any of the ones from the USA who just have a lot of trash. With our right minds nobody will have to tell us to come together but it’s like pulling hen’s teeth to organize somebody who has been conditioned to destroy themself.

What do you see as the role of the Rastafarian Movement?

I have recently met with Rastas and was simply amazed because I heard the wrong derogatory things about Rastas. The highest compliment I can give to Rastas was from my grand-daughter who said, “These are the kindest people I’ve ever met.”

The Rastas have a philosophy of returning to the motherland, but I say that you should go with your reparations. You don’t need to start from scratch, you have to claim what is yours. People used to say to me “Queen Mother you going to Africa — are you going to live in a hut? I’ve been in a hut for 400 years, if they have palaces I am going to live in the palace.” So you have to have that attitude with home. You’re not supposed to dispose of any real estate without giving account to all the heirs, so those brothers at home have to be talked to if they don’t recognize our right to our inheritance.

We have been severed from our gold, diamonds, rubber plantations, tin, cobalt, and copper. That’s why when I go to Africa I don’t let the brothers say “Welcome, Queen Mother.” I tell them all you can say to me is “welcome Back” — you just can’t say welcome because that implies that it’s yours and you’re being magnanimous.

I am not playing with this thing because that implies that it’s yours and the greatest scientific age that the world has ever known and we’ve got to be able to analyze and scrutinize, we’ve got to have our right mind.

Queen Mother Moore: Her Life and Ideas, Westindian Digest (September 1982).