Moon, Henry Lee

views updated

Henry Lee Moon

Journalist, editor, civil rights activist

Henry Lee Moon was an advocate for civil rights and dedicated servant and leader to the African Ameri-can community. Henry Moon's career, beginning in 1926 as press agent for Tuskegee Institute through 1974 as editor of the prominent magazine, The Crisis, spanned nearly fifty years. Through his work as a journalist, editor, author, and civil rights advocate, Moon must be counted as one of the major African American activists of his time.

Henry Lee Moon was born on July 20, 1901 in Pendleton, South Carolina to William J. Moon and Georgia Bullock. The Moon family soon moved to Cleveland, Ohio where young Moon spent most of his childhood years. Moon's parents became active in and Moon's father served as the first president of the local Cleveland branch of the NAACP.

Much of the Moon family's social and political activism would impact young Moon and remain with him throughout his life. When he was only nine years of age the NAACP launched its premiere magazine, The Crisis. With W. E. B. Du Bois, noted scholar and activist, as its editor, The Crisis had a huge influence on many people within the African American community. Moon was certainly influenced by Du Bois and the NAACP so much so that he would later become public relations director of the NAACP and fourth editor of this journal. Ultimately he edited and published a collection of Du Bois' works entitled The Emerging Thoughts of Du Bois. Moon's academic training at Howard University and at Ohio State University provided him the training he needed to work in journalism. He entered Howard University with a major in journalism in 1918. By 1924, he had earned an MA. in journalism from Ohio State University.

From Journalist to Film Producer

Following graduation from Ohio State University, Moon was hired as the director of press relations at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1926. Moon's tenure at Tuskegee would last for the next seven years. In 1931, Moon left Tuskegee for his first newspaper job in New York City. He began writing for the New York Amsterdam News. Shortly afterward his editorials began appearing in both African American newspapers and mainstream white newspapers. Moon wrote for the New York Times, New Republic, London Tribune, Chicago Defender, and Cleveland Herald News. Moon also published articles in the Urban League's Opportunity magazine, as well as Atlanta University's journal, Phylon. Remaining true to the cause of human justice and equality for the racially oppressed, Moon editorialized about politics, corrupt labor laws, public housing, and race relations in the United States.


Born in Pendleton, South Carolina on July 20
Graduates with B.A. from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Receives MA degree in journalism from Ohio State University
Becomes press agent for Tuskegee Institute in Alabama
Joins the New York Amsterdam News as a journalist
Travels with twenty-one prominent African Americans to the Soviet Union to produce a film about the history of blacks in the United States
Dismissed from the New York Amsterdam News for union activities
Serves on staff at the Federal Public Housing Authority as race relations advisor
Serves as director of Political Action Committee of the Congress of Industrial Organizations
Publishes Balance of Power: The Negro Vote
Becomes director of public relations for the NAACP
Becomes fourth editor of the NAACP's magazine, The Crisis
Edits The Emerging Thoughts of W. E. B. Du Bois: Essays and Editorials from "The Crisis"
Retires from NAACP and as editor of The Crisis
Dies in New York City on June 7

As a journalist Moon extended his interest beyond domestic policy into international news. He traveled throughout the United States and to other parts of the world, many times on special assignment. In 1932, Henry Moon, Langston Hughes (the prominent African American literary figure), and twenty other notable African Americans traveled to the Soviet Union for a film project depicting the African American experience in the United States, but the film project was never completed. As reported in the New York Times on June 8, 1985, Moon reportedly told the New York Amsterdam News that the project was aborted "because of fears that it might wound American sensibilities at a time when the Soviet Union was seeking diplomatic recognition by the United States." Following the cancelled film project, Moon was dismissed by the New York Amsterdam News reportedly for his support of union activities.

In 1938 Moon joined the Federal Public Housing Authority as a regional advisor on race relations. His tenure with Public Housing lasted until 1944. During this six-year period Moon continued to advocate for fair housing and the abolition of race-based discriminatory practices. Also, in 1941, Moon studied public relations and public administration at American University in Washington, D.C. In 1944, Moon was selected as an assistant to Sidney Hillman, director of the Political Action Committee. The committee served under the umbrella of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Moon assisted director Hillman until 1948.

By 1948, Moon had published his first book, Balance of Power: The Negro Vote, which was well received and touted throughout the black press as a definitive study of the effect of African American voting habits since Reconstruction. Although Moon had his share of critics, the book brought him national attention.

Moon's goal was to examine the process African Americans experienced in order to gain use of the ballot. He studied trends in African American party affiliation and its impact on the group's ability to attain full equality. In Moon's assessment full equality is determined by freedom of political action, the acquisition of property, and the attainment of an education. Although African Americans did not have full equality when the book was published, Moon was convinced that the tide was shifting in a positive direction. For example, despite intimidation tactics, fraud schemes, and efforts made by some legislators to deter African American voter turnout in the 1940s, the numbers of African Americans qualified to vote continued to increase. Moon further estimated that the voting campaign of 1948 was to be one of the most mean-spirited campaigns in U.S. history.

Moon concluded that in the World War II era, the main objective most African Americans shared was the elimination of Jim Crow laws and full and equal access to the rights of U.S. citizenship. The desire to achieve those goals was the binding force for African Americans, explained Moon. He pointed out that the demands were not imagined but universal among blacks, but he admitted only militant blacks and noted black leaders expressed them openly. Consequently, white Americans' unwillingness to acknowledge African Americans' commitment to their objectives led to underestimating the political and racial challenges that lay ahead for the country.

Moon, the NAACP, and The Crisis

Between 1948 and 1964 Henry Moon served as the director of public relations for the NAACP. In this role Moon helped the organization increase its national and international visibility. He used his press background to strengthen the NAACP's relationship with the press. In 1955 Moon was the NAACP representative on a tour of Radio Free Europe in Munich, Germany. For a brief period between 1964 and 1965 Moon was appointed deputy director of public information for New York City's Housing and Development Board. He returned to the NAACP as its public relations director and accepted a dual position as editor of the organization's magazine, The Crisis. Moon was regarded as one of "The Big Four," who guided the development and execution of the NAACP. Moon followed on the heels of three great predecessors: W. E. B. Du Bois; Roy Wilkins, NAACP leader and former editor of The Crisis; and James W. Ivy, writer, activist, and former Crisis editor. For the next ten years Henry Moon served as chief editor of The Crisis.

Moon was privileged to become acquainted with Du Bois, a man he had idolized since childhood. In fact in his first editorial as chief editor of The Crisis, Moon highlighted the successes of the magazine under its venerable founder and leader, Du Bois, and the new path he hoped to establish for the publication. In the January 1965 issue of The Crisis Moon noted: "Under the editorship of its founder, the late W. E. B. Du Bois, the magazine enjoyed high prestige as the authentic voice of the civil rights movement. It was in the words of the founder, a record of the darker races. Its informative and often provocative editorials and articles were widely read and frequently quoted … It will not be the magazine it was under Dr. Du Bois, first because only he could give The Crisis his unique editorial flavor."

Moon was interested in broadening the magazine's circulation to reach beyond the organization's membership to enlist the support of a wider base. He wished to entice well noted authors both black and white to submit writings to the magazine, as well as to expand the range of content in the journal. He felt that the magazine's coverage should reflect changing U.S. conditions. Moon strongly believed that it was no longer the sole responsibility of The Crisis to shoulder the responsibility of reporting Negro news. The success of well edited and widely circulated "Negro" magazines helped to lighten the load that The Crisis shouldered for a long time. Nonetheless, Moon hoped to retain the prominent position of The Crisis.

Moon continued to keep a close eye of African American political progress and track racial voting trends. Alongside his first editorial in The Crisis as its new editor Moon wrote about the "Negro's Political Future." He also published an articled entitled, "How We Voted and Why?" Moon highlighted the phenomenal turnout of African American voters in the 1964 presidential election of Lyndon B. Johnson as well as editorialized about the then-recent ruling by the Democratic National Convention to ban racial discrimination in the selection of state delegations to all future national democratic conventions. Moon also articulated his hope for an increase in African American party leadership as well as an increase in the number of black mayors elected in major cities. As editor of The Crisis Moon emphasized the need for the magazine to highlight African American achievers and major achievements in the civil rights struggle, creating a historical record of those events.

Moon's dedication to the NAACP and to the magazine lasted throughout his reign as editor. One year prior to his retirement in 1974, Moon edited and published The Emerging Thoughts of W. E. B. Du Bois, an extensive collection of Du Bois's works with an introduction by Moon. By its publication Moon had become an expert on Du Bois.

In 1974, after a seventeen-year career with the NAACP, Henry Moon retired. He had witnessed numerous changes in U.S. social and political structure, and he took great pride in the work he and the organization he proudly represented contributed to bringing about progress for the oppressed. His impact on the organization lasted beyond his lifetime.

On June 7, 1985, after a prolonged illness, Henry Moon died at the age of eighty-four at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. His surviving relatives were his wife, Mollie, and his daughter, Mollie Moon Eliot of Manhattan. In a fitting tribute to his legacy many newspapers and The Crisis wrote editorials about Moon. The New York Amsterdam News wrote: "Henry was an effective and unusual advocate of freedom and equality for the racially oppressed. He dedicated much of his life to the NAACP, which represented and symbolized his own beliefs in human dignity and freedom … We will miss him but we are also assured that he departs from this world after having lived a rewarding and successful life."

In tribute to Moon for his dedication to the NAACP, many of his colleagues supported and funded the establishment of the Henry Lee Moon Library at the association's archives in Baltimore, Maryland. The association noted that Moon's accomplishments were much greater than his quiet character and modesty may have indicated. However, for his achievements in public relations, journalism, and for furthering the cause of the civil rights movement he deserves to be noted and affectionately remembered by all.



"Henry Lee Moon Dead at 84; Ex-NAACP Spokesman." New York Times, 8 June 1985.

"Moon Crisis Editor Was Famous Journalist." New York Amsterdam News, 15 June 1985.


NAACP Henry Lee Moon Library web page, (Accessed 4 March 2005).

                           Baiyina W. Muhammad