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
I attended a 1973 meeting of the Muhammad Ahmad (a.k.a. Max Stanford) Defense Committee (MADC). Police had captured Ahmad, a leader of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and a principal target of the COINTELPRO program. I was asked at the meeting, “You ever heard of Queen Mother Moore?” I was a college freshman. After receiving a brief explanation, I was assigned to escort Queen Mother to a speaking engagement. The proceeds of her California talks went to the MADC.
As her driver and security, I accompanied Queen Mother on several speaking engagements in the 1970s. I was later recruited into RAM’s successor organization, the African Peoples Party (APP). Queen Mother was mentor to the APP. As the principal female elder in APP, she was commonly referred to as “Mother.” Queen Mother’s speech that 1973 winter day expressed themes that recurred throughout her addresses. I will briefly share some core themes that appeared in Queen Mother’s oratory and reconstruct some of my experiences with her.
“We are Africans”: The Core Themes of Mother’s message
Queen Mother always emphasized Blacks in the United States were “Africans.” She believed “Black”, “Negro”, and “Colored” were not appropriate designations. Mother argued your identity must be tied to a homeland; Chinese from China, Germans from Germany, Japanese from Japan, and Mexicans from Mexico. “Where is Colored Land? Where is Negro or Black Land? You can only be Africans!” The sojourn of “Africans” in the U.S. did not transform them into “Americans.” She consistently queried, “Cats having kittens in an oven, doesn’t make them biscuits?” Mother asserted Africans in the U.S. were a “captive nation.”
Mother asserted that our oppression had Black people in a mental condition she labeled “oppression-psycho neurosis.” This “psychosis” led Blacks to act against our interests and engendered fidelity to our oppressors. This psychological condition was reflected in our being “denaturized” into “negroes.” She described a tamed lion in a circus to make her point. Mother stated the lion opened his mouth and allowed his white female tamer to put her head in it. If the lion had been in “his right mind, he would have torn that white girl’s head off.”
Queen Mother advocated reparations for enslavement and our colonized psychological condition or “slave mentality.” Reparations were also due for changing our culture and physical makeup. Being light-skinned, she proclaimed her “beautiful dark skin” was lost due to white rapists violating her female ancestors.
Queen Mother represented the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women (UAEW), an organization that she founded in 1955. The UAEW challenged capital punishment of Black men. They asserted large numbers of Black men were on death row in southern prisons primarily due to “legal lynching” due to false charges of rape of white women. Queen Mother and the UAEW were also the primary reparations advocates for “African slave descendants.” Mother’s lobbying for reparations made an impact on the Black Power movement and influenced the political programs of the Republic of New Africa (RNA), Nation of Islam, RAM, Yoruba Temple, and ultimately the Black Panther Party.
Queen Mother and Gender in the Nationalist movement
I do not characterize Queen Mother’s message as feminist. Her concept of “nation-building” included the practice of polygyny, men having multiple wives to increase the Black population. My male ego swelled after she pointed to me during a speech and said: “Look at this beautiful, young brother! He should have at least three wives!” She also promoted the need for male leadership. One example of her support for patriarchy occurred after an accidental fire destroyed her home in New York while she was visiting Los Angeles. At a meeting to create a committee to provide support for Queen Mother, the question came up of who would lead the group. Mother exhorted, “We need a man for this job… a strong man.”
While she did not challenge patriarchy in her addresses, her strong presence and authority encouraged space for women’s power in the revolutionary nationalist movement. Queen Mother was a powerful example of a “strong woman” in the movement. Her presence and voice could not be silenced. Women seeking a vehicle to express their interests in the APP utilized the UAEW as a mass women’s organization.1 By the 1977 APP Congress, sister-comrades demanded “full participation.” These sisters called for elimination of barriers that blocked women from playing any role in the organization or the movement. This demand preceded the conscious fight against sexism and patriarchy in the New African movement.
Old Left and Revolutionary Nationalist Politics
Queen Mother would also use her position and reputation to advance the agenda of the APP in the ideological struggle of the Black Nationalist/Pan-Africanist movement and the broader Black liberation struggle. She was particularly effective in advocating APP positions at national conferences. One example was the State of the Race (SOR) conference, where in 1977 we believed our revolutionary nationalist positions were suppressed. The era’s Pan-Africanist and Black Nationalist organizations and their constituencies were invited to the conference. The APP and other New African independence formations were not represented in plenary sessions and workshops.
The 1978 conference organizers invited Queen Mother as a keynote speaker and also to speak to a meeting of its planning committee. We informed Queen Mother that the APP and the RNA had been excluded from presenting at the 1977 gathering. During her address to the conference planning committee, Mother posed a series of questions:
“I know you are going to deal with the question of our people being a captive nation… My children, I know you are going to deal with the question of reparations…. Oh my children, I know you are going to address the issue of our political prisoners and prisoners of war.”
Her questions reflected the issues the APP was known to address. Subsequently, the APP was invited to participate in the 1978 SOR conference. I am certain her intervention was critical in securing the invitation. Queen Mother also promoted our positions on reparations and freedom for political prisoners in the process toward the 1974 Sixth Pan-African Congress.
Queen Mother’s experience in the Communist Party (C.P) also contributed to the ideology and practice of the APP. While the APP ideology was revolutionary nationalism and Pan-Africanism, it was also a democratic-centralist organization in the Leninist tradition. The organization grounded itself in dialectical materialism modeled after communist parties in China, Vietnam, and Cuba. Mother often clarified democratic-centralist practices and dialectical/historical materialism theory at APP Congresses and internal sessions. Mother sat on the APP Central Committee and advised the leadership.
On one visit to Los Angeles, a friend and colleague of Mother criticized our local group for not having a position on a California ballot initiative to make significant decreases in property taxes, and major cuts in public services. Mother inquired, “What’s the Party’s (APP) position on this?” She said, “The Party must have a position on every major question that affects our people.” Mother counseled we needed to internally debate our position on different issues and as a democratic centralist organization “move as one” on the position after voting on the question. She argued we needed to use our revolutionary nationalist/scientific socialist analysis to assess how certain issues could organize our people towards national liberation.
Her experiences in the C.P. informed her practice of concealing her revolutionary ideology and APP membership. Mother argued we needed a “party line” and a “mass line.” The party line was an internal position reflecting our revolutionary objectives and the mass line a public position used to educate and organize our people. While she believed in a socialist Republic of New Africa as the political objective, Mother did not openly advocate it. I remember her telling a small, informal gathering the vision of New Africa was “something we should teach our children” but not publicly promote. She believed much more was needed to heighten our people’s consciousness before promoting socialism and an independent Black nationhood.
The Contemporary Political Legacy of Queen Mother Moore
Chokwe Lumumba asserted in a 1998 speech, “We are the sons and daughters of Queen Mother Moore and Malcolm X.” Prior to his 2013 election to Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, Lumumba co-founded the New Afrikan People’s Organization (1984) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (1990) with former members of the PGRNA and APP, both organizations that Queen Mother provided direction and mentoring for a new generation of Black Liberation activists. She is obscured in the memory of the contemporary Black nation. For Queen Mother Moore to be resurrected in the consciousness of U.S. African descendants, the movement for African identity, reparations, freedom for political prisoners, and self-determination must be in the center of the conversation of our fight for human rights and social justice.
- “Universal Association of Ethiopian Women Position Paper on the National Question,” Soulbook 10, 3:2, (1975), 48-61. ↩