Audley Moore, Black Women’s Activism, and Nationalist Politics

Today’s post is part of a week-long series featuring excerpts from a special issue on activist Queen Mother Audley Moore. The issue is now available in Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International

Queen Mother Audley Moore (Black Women Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America).

Audley “Queen Mother” Moore had fond memories of Marcus Garvey, the charismatic Black nationalist leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the largest and most influential global Black nationalist movement of the twentieth century. Recounting a story in a 1973 interview with the Black Scholar, Moore vividly describes the first time she heard Garvey speak in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1920:

We heard that Garvey was coming to New Orleans, but the police would not allow him to speak. Garvey came and they arrested him. The people raised so much sand until they had to let him out the next night.

When local police officials tried to block Garvey from speaking during the second night, Moore describes a tense scene in which she and others pulled out guns in defense of Garvey’s right to speak. She explained it this way: “I had two guns-one in my bosom and one in my pocketbook . . . Everybody was told, and everybody knew they had to come armed. We wanted that freedom.” Standing with a crowd of Black supporters—all with guns in the air—Moore joined the chorus of voices shouting, “Speak, Garvey, speak!”1 Moore’s first encounter with Garvey that evening marked the beginning of her political journey into Black nationalist and radical politics.

Moore’s Early Years

Born in New Iberia in 1898 to St. Cyr Moore and Ella Henry, Moore spent her early years in Louisiana before relocating to New Orleans with her younger sisters, Eloise and Lorita. While in New Orleans, Moore worked as a hairdresser and later in domestic service. During the early 1920s, she joined a rapidly growing community of Black activists who turned to the UNIA during the post-World War I era.

The UNIA provided a crucial platform for Black women like Audley Moore to champion the cause of African redemption and universal Black liberation. As Moore later acknowledged, “Garvey brought me a new consciousness in relation to Africa and the connection with the Caribbean. I didn’t know my connections with the West Indies and neither did I know my connections with Africa.” Driven by this renewed sense of race consciousness and diasporic vision, Moore became increasingly active in the Garvey movement though she never held any formal positions in the UNIA.2 After arriving in Harlem during the early 1920s, she frequently attended UNIA meetings and participated in the UNIA’s first International Convention. She also purchased stocks in the Black Star Line (BSL), Garvey’s largest and most significant business venture.

Her involvement in the UNIA during the 1920s laid the groundwork for her political work and certainty shaped her ideas about Black nationalist and radical politics. The lessons that Moore learned as a Garveyite during the 1920s—the significance of African heritage, Pan-Africanism, Black political self-determination, self-sufficiency, racial solidarity, and grassroots activism—informed her political ideas and praxis during the twentieth century. They greatly influenced her vision and leadership in various political organizations of the period including the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW).

The Universal Association of Ethiopian Women

In the aftermath of Marcus Garvey’s deportation, Moore turned to the Communist Party (CP), viewing it as a viable political alternative, and as a space in which to continue the political work she began in the Garvey movement. In 1950, she left the CP, claiming that members of the party failed to address racism and sexism. She also criticized the party for withdrawing their support of self-determination. While the actual circumstances concerning Moore’s decision to leave the CP are unclear, it is likely that her decision was motivated by the increasing government repression during this period. From 1951 to 1952, Moore was a member of the Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a leftist organization led by Black Communist women Louise Thompson Patterson and Beulah Richardson. In 1954, shortly after the passing of her brother, Moore returned to Louisiana, where she rejoined the tightknit community of Garveyite activists in the Sons and Daughters of Ethiopia—an auxiliary of the UNIA’s New Orleans Division that addressed the economic needs of Black communities.

When the Sons and Daughters of Ethiopia folded sometime in the late 1950s, Moore went on to establish the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW), a grassroots Pan-Africanist organization, in 1957. The organization drew support from a diverse group of Black women activists in Louisiana—including local activists Alma Dawson and Bessie Phillips, and Moore’s younger sisters Eloise and Loretta. Some of the women who joined
the UAEW had been active in the Garvey movement during the 1920s.

Among the Garveyite women with whom Audley Moore collaborated in UAEW, Dara Abubakari (formerly Virginia Collins) was “one of Moore’s closest affiliates.” Born Virginia Young in Louisiana in 1915, Abubakari was introduced to Garvey’s teachings by her parents at a young age. As an adult, Abubakari was a grassroots organizer who was active in various political groups, including the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW), an interracial civil rights organization. An ardent Black nationalist, Abubakari drew inspiration from the Garvey movement. As the president and vice president of UAEW, Moore and Abubakari organized a series of grassroots political campaigns, lobbied for Black women’s economic rights, and provided legal aid for incarcerated Black men facing interracial rape charges.

In addition to advocating social justice and ensuring that incarcerated African American men, in particular, would have legal assistance, the UAEW became a crucial platform from which Moore and other activists promoted Black
nationalist ideals. Indeed, the organization “reflected Moore’s Garveyite politics in both name and principles.” In all likelihood, Moore’s decision to integrate the words “Universal” and “Ethiopian” in the organization’s name was influenced by the Garvey movement as well as the earlier Ethiopianist movements from which Garvey drew. Viewing her political work as an extension of the Garvey movement, Moore often framed her discussion about Black rights within the discourse of Pan-Africanism.

To that end, Moore’s UAEW emphasized the need to secure freedom for “Africans everywhere at home and abroad,” employing a phrase that was reminiscent of the Garvey movement. Echoing some of the same goals as Garvey and members of the UNIA, Moore also vowed that the UAEW would “uplift and inspire the oppressed, secure justice for those denied constitutional rights,” and bring awareness to African Americans of their “correct status” as Africans in the United States.3 By emphasizing the organization’s core mission as one that would help African Americans understand their “correct status . . . based on origin and national inspiration,” Moore articulated her commitment to Garveyite principles.

Similar to Garvey and the men and women who were active in the UNIA, Moore and her supporters in UAEW maintained a commitment to Pan-African politics—linking the Black liberation struggle in the United States to the
anti-imperialist struggles in Black communities in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. During the 1950s, Moore and fellow UAEW leader Elizabeth Thompson called on the United Nations Human Rights Commission to
“intercede [on] behalf of our people of Ethiopian origin in the United States of America” who were denied full citizenship rights. Their statement emphasized their African identity and heritage and thereby linked the Black freedom struggle in the United States with the global Black struggles for freedom in Africa and other parts of the globe.

“To keep alive the teaching of Garvey”

In a 1987 interview, Audley “Queen Mother” Moore insisted, “I have done everything I could to promote the cause of African freedom and to keep alive the teaching of Garvey and the work of the UNIA.”4 As one of the most revered Black Power leaders, Moore never lost sight of Marcus Garvey’s teachings. Long after the UNIA’s decline in membership, and in the years following Garvey’s 1927 deportation and untimely death in 1940, Moore held fast to the lessons, teachings, and strategies she had acquired in the Garvey movement.

There is no denying that Moore’s involvement in the Communist Party (CP) from the 1930s to the early 1950s informed her politics. However, it was Moore’s involvement in the Garvey movement that sparked her political awakening and marked the beginning of her political career. In the Garvey movement, Moore became part of the UNIA’s network of women activists engaged in the struggle to secure the rights and freedom of people of African descent across the diaspora.

Her political ideas and activism provide useful lessons for addressing a range of contemporary issues facing people of African descent in the United States and abroad. In the ongoing struggle against Western imperialism, recolonization efforts in Africa, and modern-day acts of lynching (just to name a few), the lessons Moore acquired in the Garvey movement—namely, the significance of Pan-African unity, racial solidarity, and grassroots activism— are as relevant today as they were during the twentieth century.

  1.  Queen Mother Moore, “The Black Scholar Interviews: Queen Mother Moore,” The Black Scholar 4, no. 6/7 (March–April 1973): 47–55.
  2.  Author’s interview with Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford), November 16, 2014.
  3. Quoted in Ashley Farmer, “Reframing African American Women’s Grassroots Organizing: Audley Moore and the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women, 1957–1963,” Journal of African American History 101, no. 1–2 (Winter–Spring 2016), 69–96.
  4.  Hugh Hamilton, “Queen Mother Moore Recalls a Historic UNIA,” The City Sun (New York City), July 1987.
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Keisha N. Blain

Keisha N. Blain is a historian of the 20th century United States with broad interdisciplinary interests and specializations in African American History, the modern African Diaspora, and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain.