Born in Barbados in 1893, Richard B. Moore was a civil rights advocate, a communist organizer and a champion of Caribbean and African self-determination who migrated to New York City in 1909 and played an influential role in Harlem independent politics and social life for more than fifty years. His involvement began as early as 1915 with various self-improvement and cooperative efforts, including the Harlem Pioneer Cooperative Society and the Associated Colored Employees of America, a job opportunity organization. In 1919, he joined the African Blood Brotherhood, a secret organization of some 3,000 black members nationally which emphasized self-defense, race pride and self-determination for black people, including in the United States. He quickly established himself as one of Harlem's great soapbox orators and a strong community organizer. Moore, Cyril Briggs, founder of the African Blood Brotherhood, and fellow member Grace Campbell were among the first blacks to join the Communist Party (CP) in the early 1920s.
They came to the Party mainly because of the Comintern's (Third Communist International) strong commitment to racial and national movements against imperialism, and with the hope of transforming the mainly white CP into a fighting force against segregation. Moore became the editor of The Negro Champion, the media organ of the American Negro Labor Congress, a CP front for labor and progressive black organizations. He also helped organize the Harlem Educational Forum, along with Hubert Harrison, W.A. Domingo and Rev. Ethelred Brown.
Historical accounts have been given on the relationship of the ABB and Garvey. Moore accounts that the ABB was established before Garvey came on the scene and that he and other radicals were already in New York debating the cause and effects of oppression on Negroes and were constructing their own philosophical positions when Garvey arrived. He did not consider Marcus as a radical at the time.
Moore had gotten to know Garvey not only through Domingo who had been in the S.A.G. Cox's National Club in Jamaica with Marcus but through the Cosmo Advocate Publishing Company where Garvey had a desk. Moore recalls the long hours that he and Garvey spent in conversation. At that time he said Garvey was not as aggressive as he would eventually become as he grew in power. He said power excited Marcus. At this point the UNIA was not formed as yet and he was struggling to get it going. He soon got it going with some of the dissidents of Hubert Harrison's organization, The Liberty League.
It goes without question that members of the ABB including Moore tried to influence Garvey in their direction. As the two organizations grew so did the philosophical differences. Eventually these differences became personal the enmity between Domingo and Garvey grew and then the enmity between Briggs and Marcus took hold. Inevitability the ABB and the "Emancipator" with which Moore was associated would become embroiled with Garvey. To some extent Moore shares Domingo's and Brigg's opinion of Garvey. Moore was one of the most outspoken, daring and radical Communist in the black community at that time. So much so that it was said of him that he was a regular fire eater and aspired to outshine all other radicals in his time.
In 1928, Moore and Campbell launched the Harlem Tenants League which organized building committees throughout Harlem and held regular demonstrations at the Board of Aldermen demanding lower rents and better living conditions. That same year, the sixth congress of the Comintern adopted a resolution instructing the U.S. CP to "consider the struggle on behalf of the Negro masses ... as one of its major tasks." The League became the Party's chief organizing tool and its greatest recruiting source among blacks. Rent strikes were organized in more than twenty buildings. Street rallies held by the Harlem District attracted hundreds and often, thousands of sympathizers, in spite of severe police repression and arrests. Moore had been appointed New England organizer in 1935 for the Richard B. Moore Papers – page 2 International Labor Defense (ILD), another party organization. He later gained national prominence as a leading ILD spokesman on behalf of the nine young black men, known as the Scottboro Boys, who were falsely charged with raping two white women. In the early 1930s, he spearheaded black communist efforts to gain employment for blacks on the bus lines operating in Harlem and on the 125th Street commercial strip. But with the rise of fascism in Europe and the Comintern's adoption of a united front policy toward the United States and the main European colonial powers, the CP downgraded its support work on behalf of anti-imperialist and anti-discrimination struggles. Moore was subsequently criticized for "pettybourgeois nationalism," presumably for his persistance in keeping black issues on the front burner, and was removed from the League of Struggle for Negro Rights which he had helped launch in 1930. He was expelled from the Party in 1939. An outstanding pan-Africanist intellectual, Moore addressed international congresses on Africa in the 1920s, drafted resolutions calling for an end to colonial rule on that continent, and helped organize mass protests and relief efforts after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. He also played a leading role in several Caribbean advocacy groups and launched the West Indies Defense Committee in 1937, in support of striking workers throughout the British Caribbean. At the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945, Moore campaigned on behalf of the West Indies National Council and the Provisional Council of Dominated Nations for the complete freedom of subjugated peoples in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. An advocate of federation and independence for the British Caribbean territories, he was the author of various appeals and statements on those subjects, and was the principal organizer of several Caribbean-American organizations in the 1950s and 1960s, including the American Committee for West Indian Federation and the United Caribbean American Council. The self-educated Moore had a life-long commitment to African history and studied at various times under the historian, William Leo Hansberrry, and anthropologist Louis Leakey. In partnership with Angelo Herndon, he launched Pathway Press in 1940, which published a memorial edition of The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He lectured broadly on African and Afro-American history and politics, and developed curriculum outlines for the New York City Board of Education's in-service teachers training program and for local school boards in Uniondale, Rockland County and Long Island. A passionate bibliophile, he developed a library, now housed in Barbados, of some 15,000 books and published sources on the black experience worldwide. Richard B. Moore Papers – page 3 Moore was also the founder of the nationalist Afro-American Institute and ran a bookstore, the Frederick Douglass Book Center, in Harlem for over thirty years. His best known publications are The Name Negro, Its Origin and Evil Use (1960) and Caribs, Cannibals and Human Relations (1972). His articles and essays were published in The Emancipator, Daily Worker, The Negro Champion, New York Amsterdam News, Freedomways, Negro Digest and several Caribbean publications.
Moore has not received the full scholarly attention that he richly deserves. In part, this is due to the fact that he stood outside of the walls of academia. What is more, given his radical politics, we discover that his contributions to African American historiography, the African American Marxist political tradition in the United States, Caribbean independence and unity, the Pan-Africanist movement, and his scholarship and teaching toward the elevation of a sense of Black pride and dignity among the grassroots Black community are not fully appreciated. (4)
Nonetheless, Moore's life remains a significant and extraordinary chapter in African American history and culture and especially now as we look back on the tremendous intellectual and practical struggles of the twentieth century and now seek to forge new ground in the 21st century. Moore's life covers the full spectrum of Afro-American political activism, cultural development and social advances. Given the expansive scope of Moore's life activities, the need for more diligent research into his biography becomes most glaring. For example, despite considerable research into African American involvement in sports, little has been written about Moore's pioneering role in advancing Black participation in the sport of tennis. Fortunately, we do have record of Moore's efforts to "End Jim Crow in Sports" and his comments at the 1940 World's Fair, where he announced, "If we are to preserve democracy, we must stand firm ... against those forces who trample on the principles of sportsmanship."
Richard B. Moore died in Barbados in 1978.