Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People: Family and Other Figures

BOND: Looking back over your life and beginning, you know, long before you became an elected official, who’ve been important influences in your life? Who’s helped to make you who you are today?

MOORE: Well, I can tell you that there have been — you know, the leadership that I grew up learning about Martin Luther King, obviously, was a very important figure in my mind. The Kennedys. Johnson, President Johnson, for sure, as I served as a VISTA. I benefited a great deal from the Great Society, from educational opportunity programs that he put into place and I came to admire him more and more throughout my life. But I want to say that my mother and father were tremendous influences in my life. My mother taught me everything that I have needed in this career as an elected official. She really worked, focused on my learning, getting good grades. She was a speech coach, so she taught us to write —

BOND: Is this why you speak so well today?

MOORE: Not as well as she spoke, but she taught us to write and to think and to do research far ahead of the time when we could go on the Internet and just sort of slap a paper together. We had to actually go and do the research and write speeches. And so my mother was a great influence on me and my father as well. My father had a third grade education. He was functionally illiterate, and he made me promise that I would get an education.

BOND: What about people — you mentioned these national figures — Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, and others — what about other people in Milwaukee outside of your parents?

MOORE: I can tell you, there’s a woman, an octogenarian right now, Vel Phillips.

BOND: Oh, sure.

MOORE: She was the first everything and there was a tremendous impact made on me to see African Americans who were educated, who held leadership roles. They would come and judge the Elks’ oratorical contest or the Masons’ Oratorical Contest, show up at church, and this made a tremendous difference. It did inspire me to do some mentoring when I could because just chance meetings with these folk really imbued me with the idea that I, too, could rise above my circumstances.

BOND: And did the fact that Vel Phillips was a woman doing these things mean anything to you? Does that hold special resonance for you?

MOORE: Oh, absolutely, because as you know, I mean, there’s a two-fer being a black person and a woman in terms of the no self-esteem or low self-esteem that you experience in your communities. And seeing a black woman like Vel Phillips in leadership roles really, really enabled me to believe that I could do it. And she was so accessible and, you know, she wasn’t on some high throne and she wasn’t untouchable. And Vel Phillips, and Marcia Coggs was another black woman. My mother’s best friend was a social worker, had gone to college, had graduated from Hampton University. And I knew very few black men or women who had college degrees. We didn’t have historically black colleges and universities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so seeing these educated folks was really important to me because I knew that I was going to go to college. I had no idea how I was going to go, but I knew that I was a part of a group of people who could go to college.

BOND: What about Shirley Chisholm?

MOORE: Oh, absolutely. Shirley Chisholm was a tremendous — Shirley Chisholm made such a big difference in my life. I watched national politics. I read all of the time. That was the one thing I knew I could do and I could do well. Barbara Jordan. These are folks — and my mother was a reader and she read all of James Baldwin’s books — Louis Farrakhan, she kept up with what he was doing. My mother was an intellectual and so we were very very well versed in politics, particularly those politics relating to the black community.

BOND: Let me ask you about a white figure, a Milwaukeean, Father James Groppi.

MOORE: Oh, Father James Groppi. I marched with Father James Groppi.

BOND: You did. Well, good. What was the name of the group he had?

MOORE: The Commandos.

BOND: The Commandos, that’s right.

MOORE: And as a matter of fact, we just had an anniversary about three weeks ago of the Commandos and there has been an effort, and a sincere committed effort, to reorganize the Commandos because they really stood for community-oriented, not only policing but tutoring and looking out for the well-being of the community, standing up for people’s civil rights, and there’s been a re-commitment to those efforts.