Queen Mother Audley Moore pt. 2: Harlem, the Black struggle, and the CPUSA

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Queen Mother Audley Moore pt. 2: Harlem, the Black struggle, and the CPUSA


Editor’s Note: Liberation School continues our Black Communist History series with a transcription of an interview with “Queen Mother Moore,” a legendary figure in the Black liberation struggle. These interviews were conducted over three decades ago and the audio files have been digitized as part of NYU Tamiment Library’s invaluable Oral History of the American Left project. Liberation School has been transcribing and publishing interviews from this collection not as an endorsement of all the statements expressed in them, but to help a new generation of organizers and revolutionaries gain access to the experiences, lessons and perspectives of prior generations of U.S. communists. While much has been written in academic circles about the role of communists in the Black freedom struggle, this history is systematically omitted in history textbooks and rarer still do we get to hear from the Black radicals themselves. Thanks to the Tamiment Library for digitizing these audio files and to Scott Simpson for the transcription. View part one of this interview here.

Interviewer: What led you to come up to New York City?

Audley Moore: Well, as I said before, I came up to the launching of the Black Star Line. And oh, I was so inspired, with the thousands of people who were there to see the launching and to go onboard the ship and everything was just inspiring. And Garvey was up there, and I just felt it was good to be up there, because I’d be hearing all those kinds of speeches I’d never heard in the South, you see.

Interviewer: Who were some of the other people in the Garvey movement other than Garvey who made a big impression on you as great public speakers?

Audley Moore: Oh, you had Mr. Brian Cumberbatch, and a number of people. A number of great orators, but Garvey topped them all. Nobody came to hear anybody else but Garvey.

Interviewer: And so you were living in New York City in the 1920s?

Audley Moore: Yes.

Interviewer: Were you living in Harlem?

Audley Moore: Yes, yes.

Interviewer: Were you still in business for yourself at this time-

Audley Moore: No, no I wasn’t in business there in New York.

Interviewer: Did you- when you came up to New York, did you feel that the condition of the black community was more favorable in New York than in New Orleans.

Audley Moore: No, I was disappointed when I came to New York. And I felt that the Black people didn’t have- the homes wasn’t as nice, and the manners wasn’t as nice. I was very disappointed. But I stayed on, going back South frequently.

Interviewer: Did you ever get involved in, like, politics in the Democratic and Republican parties over there?

Audley Moore: Oh yes, it was here, in New York. Yes. Oh yes. I didn’t know anything about politics. But I felt — there was a black man that was running, and I felt he should be supported, and he was running on the Republican ticket. So I went to the big shots in the Republican Party: the head man. The head man downtown. I wanted to see them and see what they intended to do for us, and so on. He gave me a lot of, you know, talk about Lincoln and the Republican Party being the “friend of the Black people” and everything. So, I went to work for this Black man: J. Dowden Steel.

Interviewer: J. Dowden Steel — he was the head of the Elks.

Audley Moore: He was a great Black man. Well anyway, He was cold black, too, beautiful black. We worked so hard that the Democrats couldn’t even keep their workers on the corner, we worked so hard for J. Dowden Steel. And after the Republican — after the election day, the Republican Party had a victory dinner reception on Broadway, and the white women said, “Now, when you ladies get ready to have yours…”We weren’t “acceptable” to their victory dinner, on Broadway, you know, and that struck me then, I knew, I was in the wrong place. And it was then that, right during the campaign, right after the Republican campaign, that my sister, Eloise, came to me and told me what was happening in Harlem.

I was living on the hill. And she told me that there was a big demonstration for the Scottsboro Boys, and I said, “Who’s having the demonstration?” She said, “The Reds are having it,” and I said, “I wonder how the Reds — who are the Reds?” you know. I didn’t even know who the Reds were.

Well anyway, I called everybody because I had been active and people knew me, and I said, “Come on! Let’s go!” and so about seven or eight people went with me to see this big demonstration. When I got there, I’ve never in my life seen such an outpouring of people. I saw signs: “Death to the Lynchers!” Oh! That inspired me to no end. And I saw a young white woman carrying the sign — “Death to the Lynchers!” — I walked up to her, I said, “No, you give me that sign,” I said, “You can walk beside me but I must carry the sign. I am the — I am the Black woman. I must carry that sign.”

So, I took the sign from her and I walked around, all over, during the parade and then I got back to the place where the speakers was, and I joined up with them. I didn’t need any coaching, I didn’t need anything. This was what I wanted: freedom for my people. “Free the nine Scottsboro Boys!” and “Death to lynchers!” and everything that was just what I had been looking for.

So, I joined then. I didn’t question anything, I didn’t care what it was, it was doing that for us.

Interviewer: So that Scottsboro case was just a tremendous event.

Audley Moore: Yes, and it brought in a lot of our people, who saw action, you see, for the first time anybody moving on our issues.

Interviewer: How did the Depression affect Harlem? Was it…

Audley Moore: The Depression was something else — soup lines… Father Divine came on the scene during the Depression. He really stayed on, I think, because he gave us meals for fifteen cents. The most delicious meals, and there were lines around the block, waiting to be served in Father Divine’s mission.

So I think that helped a great deal. And then, I joined the fight for welfare for the people. My sister Eloise, at the same time, was fighting for milk for the children at a school she was interested in, and there was a Mrs. Freeman, who was the principal of the school, who helped her in her struggle, and Eloise went to Miss Fannie Hurst, of the Hurst newspapers, and got Miss Hurst to give milk, and Miss Hurst eventually put up a milk station in Harlem, where all the little children could go and get milk free, and so, well, these were the days.

We just fought. We fought for welfare, and we fought for WPA, and we fought for Social Security. Communists led all those fights. The communists led the fight for the Soldiers’ Bonus. It led the fight for unemployment insurance. It led those fights, and of course, those were things I wanted and I joined right in.

Then there was the Martinsville Seven. There was Angelo Herndon — Angelo Herndon, who was given a death sentence in Georgia for leading a big demonstration there, he was charged with sedition: a Red!

So we joined all of those fights in the freedom of our people.

Interviewer: There are people who say that, in terms, that the Depression had a devastating effect on the community, and that it, so many of the men were unemployed, and it increased the, you know, the problems of the children and things like that.

Audley Moore: Of course, of course! Yes, indeed! That was the women couldn’t get welfare if the husbands was in the house, and all that kind of thing. The social workers, the whole system divided up our people, you see.

Interviewer: When you went into the Communist Party in Harlem, was the organization mostly dominated by whites?

Audley Moore: All whites! All whites in Harlem, all positions, all, everything was white. All, everything, everything, all their leading people in the – course, they had James Ford was, he was the chairman of the Harlem Communist Party, but everything else was white. All the people were white, you know, and all the other – the finance secretaries. All the money, nobody ever saw any of the money. All of the, the head of the literature department, and the head of every important department was white. White women, oh just flocked in Harlem. We couldn’t do a thing, we couldn’t learn how to do anything for ourselves for the whites.

Interviewer: Abner was telling me that there was some tension surrounding the fact that Black women felt that white women were coming in and taking and trying to take, you know, the men in the party.

Audley Moore: They didn’t “try” to take the men, the white women took the men. They didn’t “try” to take them, they actually took them. Of course there was resentment on the part of the Black women, and the Communist Party really never made much inroad among the Black community. They didn’t allow two Blacks to meet together! Always, we had to have a white in our midst. And yet, they had all national groups was broken down. They had the, the Italian — and the Italian commission. They had the Jewish commission, Romanian, Estonian, Latvian, Yugoslavian, every mission! The Swede, the Finns. Every national group had its own commission, and the “Negro Commission” had whites in it. The party had a singsong thing on that, “Negro and white, unite and fight.” “Negro and white.” There had to be whites in all of our meetings.

Interviewer: Were the Black members of the party able to organize to change that?

Audley Moore: No, oh no indeed! Every one that tried was expelled. I guess I’m about the only one in the party that resigned. They didn’t expel me, I resigned. I had been Ben Davis’ campaign manager. Ben Davis didn’t even mention me in the book. All the wonderful work that was done – Ben didn’t know two people in Harlem when he ran for the city council. He didn’t know anybody in Harlem, and we brought all those people around him and really had a campaign. The Communist Party wanted to take me out of the campaign a week before the election – wanted to send me to Brooklyn, to work in Pett P’s campaign.

Interviewer: And did they try to prevent the Blacks from organizing together?

Audley Moore: They didn’t want Ben to win! They didn’t want Ben to win, and I went and rented the Golden Gate and had so many people there that we had two dollars and seventy-five cents, an unheard of thing around election campaigns, but I was in charge and that was the first thing I did. When the Communist Party gave me $500, and I ran that campaign, never got another nickel from them. And I got an office, and I went and put money down on the Golden Gate. And that was the first thing I did. That was in July, and the election was in November. And everything led up to that big affair: two dollars and seventy-five cents. They called me in — Ben called me in, and said “Make it twenty five cents”. Two weeks before this campaign, told me I was whipping up too much enthusiasm among the people – that I was going to demoralize the party. And we had enthusiasm was so high – until we had candidates standing up saying, “I know you’re going to give Ben your first-choice vote, but would you please give me your second?” The candidates asking for second choice! You see, so high was the – that our committee would go around singing all over Harlem. We had songs made up: “Yes, Yes! Elect Ben Davis! Yes, Yes,” you know we just, oh it was just something to behold. Nobody’s ever seen a campaign like that campaign for Ben! And I was the campaign manager. The fact that he didn’t mention me shows the terror in that communist party.

Interviewer: What did the terror stem from? How did they have people so intimidated?

Audley Moore: Well, first of all, you agreed to the self-discipline, yourself, you see, you want freedom, and you feel it gives an instrument to get it. So, you subordinate yourself. It’s really a process.

Interviewer: So it was a thing where, people like yourself felt this was the only thing that was out there fighting-

Audley Moore: It was, it was.

Interviewer: And you went through, you took certain steps in order to be part of that.

Audley Moore: That’s right, it was the only thing, and it had a position, which inspired me to no end, on us that we were a nation — within a nation, you see. And then later, of course, you know what happened: it relinquished its position on us.

Interviewer: One of the things that I came across, and I’ll get the reference for you in my files, was a fight to get rid of a racist principal.

Audley Moore: I participated in all the struggles to get rid of racist principals out of Harlem. But then I find that the problem is deeper than – of course at that time, you see, for a long time I was a “Negro”. And I fought as a “Negro”, I joined the Communist Party as a “Negro”. Now, I had to come to the realization that a “Negro” was a concoction of the old slave master, a trick to get us to do ourselves in. We don’t need the slave master over us any longer, we will do the job for him, now better than he could do it. So, being a “Negro” is a condition. It’s not just the name. When I realized that we were going wrong, I went to the Communist Party. I really wanted the Communist Party to discuss the thing, and analyze – “let’s see” – but the Blacks wouldn’t touch it. Ben Davis, and none of them would touch it. And the whites couldn’t touch it, because they said the Blacks hadn’t brought it up. And you know you’ll go according to rank, and so those Blacks on the Central Committee, if they didn’t bring it up, the whites couldn’t bring it up. So I kept getting bile – bile developing in my stomach. Because I could see we were going wrong. Now, you know, incidentally the Communist Party are calling us “Black”? If they left that “Negro”, I’d like to know what was their – what kind of discussion they had, you know, and change it, because that’s a great change for them. But we are not Black! Now, I don’t know what they are gonna do, because [7:45 ??? you do not Black then] You see, we are Africans, born in the United States. That’s what we are: Africans born in the United States. If you have little children here, who are, well let’s say Chinese, they’re born here, they’re Chinese children, born here. Let’s say the Jewish children: they’re born here, they’re still Jews. Or any other: Italians, every other people. Why we of all the people in the world had to change our names, change our character, change our terminology, our national heritage, our national origins. Everything cut away and destroyed from us. Why we- how come China produces Chinese, Japan: Japanese, France: the French — Africa produces “Negroes”. Why can’t Africa produce Africans? Well, and if we, we’re born here, I remember one little white girl came over here from South Africa, the sweetheart of Dr. Max Yerger. Her name was Frieda Neugebauer. And she was all as white as she could be, and blue-eyed and everything. And she was making a speech talking about talking “the Africans”. And I stood it as long as I could and I stood up in the floor and I said, “How could you call yourself an African?” She said, “Because I was born there”. I said, “Being born there wouldn’t make you an African, any more than if the chicken in the oven wouldn’t make them biscuits!”

Interviewer: [Laughing and coughing]

Audley Moore: She was born there, so she was “African”! They have a saying over there even calling our people “Black Africans”. Can you imagine calling the Europeans “white Europeans”? You know what I mean? So it just shows you, how we messed up, and then somebody’s got to straighten it out. So since it’s left to me, I’ve got to go about my business doing it.

Interviewer: It’s interesting: Richard Moore, who was also active as a leader in the Scottsboro campaign, has a very similar outlook in terms of this whole term “Negro”, and so on.

Audley Moore: Well, we trained Richard Moore. We trained Richard Moore. My sister Eloise, taught Richard. He had those books then, he wasn’t even going into those books, trying to get out, anything. Eloise forced him. And he put Eloise out of his store five times. She had to suffer that indignity – until he finally began to write that book. Eloise! He should have dedicated that book to Eloise. But you know you can debauch history. You know that?

Interviewer: Well that’s certainly been done in this country.

Audley Moore: You see in his book her picture’s on the front page there with some others, but Eloise was responsible.

Interviewer: What was Eloise’s last name?

Audley Moore: Moore.

Interviewer: Moore, Eloise Moore.

Audley Moore: Yes. Eloise was- she had one of the greatest minds, we used to call her our Socrates. And she- it broke our heart when Eartha Kitt was given precious time to talk with Einstein when Eloise was the one that should have talked with Einstein, not Eartha Kitt. I mean, Eloise who had a mind, who I’m sure could have brought us something back from that conversation.

Interviewer: When you were active in the Party, was there a lot of educational work going on? Was it a lot of studying and reading?

Audley Moore: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. For which I am ever grateful. I’m grateful to the party. It taught me the class character of this society. It taught me the science of society, and so that- That we have to have in our endeavor to try to get free. I’m encouraging all of our youth and our Black people to study so that they will understand, you see, because without that we could never make it.

Interviewer: Of the people active in Harlem, the Black leaders in the Party, were they strong individuals, and people of depth and power on their own, or were some-

Audley Moore: One of the unique things about our people: that in spite of being “Negroes”, we are giants. You take the men like Asa Randolph, and Du Bois, and Walter White, and Kelly Miller, and all of those men. They were all great men in their own way. Ben Davis, and James W. Ford, all great men. Henry Winston. But they’re “Negroes”, and they can’t make it as “Negroes”, they just can’t make it. You know they could not, I should say, because they’re dead and gone.

Interviewer: It’s interesting, because sometimes you will read things and they give you the idea that the Black people in the Party were just “yes-men”. Speaking to Abner Berry, a person that brilliant, I couldn’t imagine him being a “yes-man”.

Audley Moore: No, no, they were not “yes-men”, they made their contribution according to the way they understood. But, you see, a “Negro” fits in a situation. That’s it — a “Negro” doesn’t dare to be creative. He can’t get creative once he’s subjected to somebody else’s ideology, you see. So that’s what it is. A “Negro” is his own destruction. He doesn’t need the white man to destroy him anymore. It’s a bad condition to be in, a very bad condition.

Interviewer: What were the schools like in Harlem during the thirties, during those fights you were involved in?

Audley Moore: Oh, they were terrible. The white teachers used to call our children “n*****s” in the classroom. Yes they did! White teachers used to fling books across the room, and have the blood gushing- [Audio heavily distorted] They don’t have the interest at heart of the little children, any greater than the white people. Now, I don’t say all of them, I don’t even say all the whites, because I had a white principal, assistant principal, in a school in Harlem the other day ask me, “Please, come and help us”. [Laughing] He’s paid now, and I’m not on anybody’s salary, and “come and help them to get the change they need”. “It’s so disheartening to see our children come into school in first grade, all bright-eyed, eager, hungry to learn, and go out drooping in sixth grade”, and it’s his own school. So this is the condition.

Interviewer: What about the tenant struggle that was waged during the thirties?

Audley Moore: Oh yes, it was a great struggle. Great struggle! Putting the furniture back in the houses after the landlords put the people out: sick people and everything. People couldn’t pay their rent, those were terrible. And on Sugar Hill where everybody thought they were better than everybody else. I organized Sugar Hill. The first strikes we had, I organized. And 555 Edgecomb, 672 St. Nicholas, all those big houses. We organized those houses. So it was quite something, and I hadn’t, I mean I was organizing the houses when I joined the Communist Party. I was right in the process of organizing the houses. When I joined the Communist Party, though, I didn’t know, I sat there for a year almost before I finally understood what they were talking about. They were talking about the Mannerheim line, the Little Entente, [laughing] things like that. Hitler’s occupation of the Sudetenland, all those kinds of things. And then of course, by the time of Hitler’s occupation of the Rhineland, I began to understand then what was happening, you see.

Interviewer: Do you remember when Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the big demonstration?

Audley Moore: Oh, my goodness, yes. I was participating in organizing. Many of our people wanted to go, volunteer to go, the United States government said “If you go, you’ll lose your citizenship.” “What citizenship?” we would ask! [laughing] “What citizenship?” But we collected bandages and sheets, old sheets and tore them up, and the nurses in Harlem Hospital, they sterilized them. We collected medicines and so on, and we had to fight to get nurses in Harlem Hospital, we had to fight for decent treatment. Every day, every day, every day it was struggle! Every day! We had to fight to get nurses in Bellevue, we had to fight to get Black doctors in Harlem Hospital. It was something. Even to put clean sheets on the receiving table, we had to fight for that. There were dirty, bloody sheets and they didn’t mind putting you right on somebody else’s blood.

Interviewer: Other than yourself, were there strong, Black women in the party?

Audley Moore: Always. There was always, many beautiful Black women. But most of them would come and go because they were so disgusted on account of the Black men.

Interviewer: Do you remember Benita Williams?

Audley Moore: Oh, Benita was my heart! She was so darling, so sincere. She worked, like we all did, round the clock, night and day, no time, no Sundays, no holidays, no such thing as that. Yes indeed. How did you know about Benita?

Interviewer: Oh, reading, Abner told me about her-

Audley Moore: You certainly have done your-

Interviewer: -and reading about the League of Struggle For Negro Rights.

Audley Moore: The League of Struggle for Negro Rights, that’s right.

Interviewer: And they had housewives on strike against the meat prices.

Audley Moore: Oh yes, we organized, we organized against high meat prices, we used to go into markets and take the bones of meat from women and say, “What did you pay for this?” And we’d put it on the scale. Make the butcher give her back her extra money. Many times we closed up the butchers. We closed them up! They used to put their hands on the scale, and they used to put stones in the scale. I guess they still do! And they used to have rotten meat, you could smell it. Rotten fish, you could smell it out on the sidewalk. You could smell it. We closed them up! We closed up the theaters on the avenue. I led many of those fights. Closed up the theaters, for having smutty jokes against us and so on. There’s a lot of things I could tell you but you know I have to write my own book. [laughing]

Interviewer: Right. That’s right! You do have to write your book, because-

Audley Moore: That’s right! There should be people.

Interviewer: There was also the fight to open up jobs on 25th Street.

Audley Moore: Well, now that was a big thing. Abner Berry and myself was appointed to go meet with Adam Powell, to ask him – we were appointed by the Communist Party – to ask him would he lead the jobs campaign. And he said he was so busy, and we assured him that if he just said yes, that’s all, because we would do all the work, and he did say yes, and then we went and got another great minister to be co-chairman with him. Rev. William Lloyd Imes. And we organized that jobs campaign. And Adam of course . And we picketed the welfare, and I was captain of the welfare picket line, where we picketed ‘round the clock, all day and all night. We had jobs on the buses, we had a lot of meetings with Mike Quill.

Interviewer: Mike Quill, right.

Audley Moore: And we organized with the Union. Of course the Communist Party played a role. You see, I don’t want to negate what the Communists did, because I’ll tell you: without the help of the Communist Party at that time…

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