Biography, Black History, Blog

Queen Mother Moore and Reparative Histories by Dr Hannah Ishmael

Whilst the events of this summer have thrown into sharp relief the effects of state sanctioned violence against Black communities, globally, it is important to recognise that alongside the campaigns to end racism there has also been activity that seeks redress, or reparations, for the legacies of racism and white supremacy. The modern-day reparations movement seeks justice not only for the atrocities of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery but is “part of a continuum of unbroken struggle for emancipation and restitution in the present.”[1] This modern reparations movement has been spearheaded by African American activist and campaigner Queen Mother Moore.

Born Audley Moore in 1898 in Louisiana, USA, Moore spent most of her life involved in activism and politics focussing on the liberation of Black people. During the 1920s Moore joined the Garvey movement and although a friend of Marcus Garvey, Moore left the movement and later joined the Communist Party, becoming secretary of the New York branch. Moore left the Party in 1950 when she became unhappy with the Party’s lack of action on colonialism. From the 1960s until her death in 1997 Moore became involved with the Black Power movement, spearheaded the Reparations movement and focused on women’s issues in West Africa where she gained the honorary title ‘Queen Mother’, whilst on a trip in Ghana.

Whilst the calls for reparations are often framed around the financial questions, there is another aspect that deals with the need for psychological damage of enslavement and colonialism, particularly the role of history writing and research. Moore’s understanding of reparations was informed by her earlier involvement in the Communist Party of the USA and the Garvey movement. In 1955 Moore created the Reparations Committee of Descendants of United States Slaves, likely the first organization to focus entirely on reparations followed by the Reparations Committee Inc. in 1962. In 1963 she published Why Reparations? Reparations is the Battle Cry for the Economic and Social Freedom of More than 25 Million Descendants of American Slaves that articulated her vision for reparations. In Why Reparations? Moore identified the need for financial compensation, looking to the precedents set during the First and Second World Wars and argued for the economic and legal advancement of Black people.

Throughout the 1980s Moore visited England on speaking tours, spreading her vision for reparations. Moore’s visits to England sparked the foundation of a number of community centres and youth clubs in her honour, including the Queen Mother Moore supplementary school that was based in Clapham, London and the development of the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Brixton, London.

Inspired by the calls from Queen Mother Moore to create a research and cultural centre that would pay homage to those that perished during the ‘middle passage’ and on the plantations. Taking up this call, one of the key motivators behind the establishment of BCA was the desire to improve the self-esteem of Black children through the promotion of a positive identity, as one of the factors for the 1981 disturbances was attributed to poor educational attainment and feelings of low self-worth. The creation of a positive identity could be found in access to material that affirmed not only a Black presence in history, but positive and celebratory accounts of Black history. Recently, the journal Race & Class has published a special issue on what they have termed ‘reparative histories’[2] that seeks to understand how re-telling and disrupting mainstream historical narratives can begin to address the psychological impacts of distorted and negative stereotypes of Black peoples in history. As argued by Professor Catherine Hall, “reparatory history must be about more than identifying wrongdoers and seeking redress: it begins with the descendants, with trauma and loss, but the hope is that the work of mourning can be linked to hopes for reconciliation, the repair of relations damaged by historical injustice.”[3]

Taking the lead of Queen Mother Moore, it is vital that we continue to centring the stories of the enslaved, their descendants and the legacies of enslavement in the work of historians to ensure that Black Lives Matter in the past, present and future.

Hannah Ishmael has recently completed her PhD thesis looking at the development of Black-led archives in London. Hannah works as the archivist at Black Cultural Archives and is a Teaching Fellow on the Archives and Records Management MA programme at UCL.

[1] Esther Stanford-Xosei, ‘The Long Road of Pan-African Liberation to Reparatory Justice,’ in  Hakim Adi (ed), Black British History: New Perspectives (Zed Books, 2019) pp. 176-199.

[2] Cathy Bergin and Anita Rupprecht, ‘History, Agency and the Representation of “Race” – An Introduction’, Race & Class (2017)

[3] Catherine Hall. ‘Doing Reparatory History: Bringing “Race” and Slavery Home’. Race & Class, (2018)