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Moore, Richard Benjamin

Moore, Richard Benjamin

August 9, 1893
August 18, 1978

The civil rights activist Richard Benjamin Moore was born in Hastings, Christ Church, Barbados. He left school at the age of eleven to work as a clerk in a department store. He emigrated to New York on July 4, 1909, and worked as an office boy and elevator operator, and then at a silk manufacturing firm, where he received regular promotions until he became head of the stock department. The racism he encountered in the United States prompted Moore to a life of activism. In 1911 he served as president of the Ideal Tennis Club, which built Harlem's first tennis courts. In 1915 he founded and was treasurer of the Pioneer Cooperative Society, a grocery store featuring southern and West Indian products. A self-educated bibliophile, he began to amass an impressive book collection and formed the People's Educational Forum (later the Harlem Educational Forum), where he organized debates and lectures.

In 1918 Moore became a member of 21st Assembly District Branch of the Socialist Party. Around this time he also joined the American Blood Brotherhood (ABB), a secret organization formed in response to race riots for the purpose of the "liberation of people of African descent all over the world." In 1920 Moore was cofounder and contributing editor of The Emancipator, of which ten issues were produced.

In 1921 Moore left the Socialist Party, disenchanted with its lack of concern for African Americans, and subsequently joined the Communist Party (the actual date of membership is uncertain). Moore was elected to the general executive board and council of directors of the American Negro Labor Congress (ANLC) at its founding meeting on October 2531, 1925, and he was a contributing editor to the ANLC's The Negro Champion. When Moore was fired from the silk manufacturing firm in 1926, he was put on the ANLC payroll as a paid organizer. In 1927, representing the ANLC at the International Congress Against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism and for National Independence in Brussels, Belgium, he drafted the Common Resolution on the Negro Question, which was unanimously adopted. In August of that year he attended the Fourth Pan-African Congress held in New York. In January 1928, as an employee of the ANLC, he organized and was president of The Harlem Tenants League. By 1931 Moore was vice president of the International Labor Defense (ILD), where he struggled during the 1930s on behalf of the Scottsboro Boys, organizing mass demonstrations, preparing press releases, and making use of his brilliant gift for oratory in speeches delivered across the nation.

In February 1940, Moore founded the Pathway Press and the Frederick Douglass Historical and Cultural League, and he republished The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1892), which had been out of print for forty years. Moore had been motivated by his reading of this work during his early years in New York. In 1942 he opened the Frederick Douglass Book Center at 141 West 125th Street, a bookshop and meeting place specializing in African, Afro-American, and Caribbean history and literature. The center remained a Harlem landmark until it was razed in 1968.

After his expulsion from the Communist Party in 1942, Moore shifted his attention to agitating for Caribbean independence. June 1940 marked the foundation of the West Indies National Emergency Committee (later the West Indies National Council [WINC]) of which he was vice president. He drafted "The Declaration of the Rights of the Caribbean Peoples to Self-Determination and Self-Government," which he submitted to the Pan-American Foreign Ministers' Conference held at Havana, Cuba, in July 1940. In 1945 Moore was a delegate of the West Indies National Council to the United Nations conference in San Francisco. He was, at the time, secretary of the United Caribbean American Council, founded in 1949.

In the 1960s Moore founded the Committee to Present the Truth About the Name Negro. In 1960 he published The Name "Negro"Its Origin and Evil Use as a part of his campaign to promote the adoption of "Afro-American" as the preferred designation of black people. He was instrumental in convincing the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History to change its name to the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1972 (the organization is now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History).

In 1966 Moore was invited by the government of Barbados to witness the Barbadian independence celebration. Although he continued to have his primary residence in the New York City area, he spent increasing amounts of time in the land of his birth. Moore died in Barbados in 1978; his extensive book collection is housed there at the University of the West Indies.

See also Association for the Study of African American Life and History; Communist Party of the United States; Douglass, Frederick; Pan-Africanism; Scottsboro Case


Rose, Peter I., ed. Americans from Africa: Old Memories, New Moods, vol. 2. New York: Atherton, 1970.

Turner, W. Burghardt, and Joyce Moore Turner. Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem: Collected Writings, 19201972. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

lydia mcneill (1996)

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