Richard B. Moore, Radical Politics, and the Afro-American History Movement: The Formation of a Revolutionary Tradition in African American Intellectual Culture

Article excerpt

  "Dogs and slaves are named by their masters; free men name
  themselves!"
  Richard B. Moore, The Name 'Negro'--Its Origin and Evil Use

Richard B. Moore, lay historian, dynamic orator, community and labor organizer, socialist, and Communist was a leading representative of the intellectual tradition termed as Black "historians without portfolio." (2) In addition to writing historical works, Moore was also a Black book dealer and Africana bibliophile. Arguably the general public usually associates the prototype of Africana bibliophiles with Arthur Schomburg and his extensive collection. Of course, many are now aware that Schomburg's collection forms the basis for the famed research library in Harlem, which bears his name. Less known but equally significant is the fact that not only were Moore and Schomburg close friends and fellow bibliophiles, but also there is Moore's own impressive collection of 5,000 books and 15,000 pamphlets, booklets and periodicals, which serve as the foundation for the Richard B. Moore Library in St. Michaels, Barbados. (3)

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." (5)

Moore was a pivotal leader among a contingent of Afro-Caribbean immigrants that arrived in the United States from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth century, and who emerged as a considerable activist/intellectual influence on the growing sense of new racial and national awareness among Black people in the United States. (6) This resurgence of racial pride developed into a compelling political and cultural movement, which was/is commonly referred to as the "New Negro Movement". During the decade following World War I, when the "New Negro Movement" became closely identified with the "Harlem Renaissance," Moore helped shape these very two concepts ("New Negro Movement" and "Harlem Renaissance") into living monuments. Although, as we shall see, the term "Negro" would later give way to his advocacy for the group name of "Afro-American." (7)

Cyril Briggs, Moore's comrade in the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) and Communist Party, wrote about the idea of a "New Negro" in the 1919 edition of the ABB organ called The Crusader. In many respects, Briggs offers a perspective that summarizes Moore's viewpoint of the importance of the "New Negro Movement." Briggs argues,

      The Old Negro and his futile methods must go. After fifty years of
    him and his methods the Race still suffers from lynching,
    disfranchisement, Jim Crowism, segregation and a hundred other ills. …