Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influential People – Parents and Grandfather

BOND: Who are the people in your life who've been significant in developing your talents, in developing your life?

MOSES: I think I have to start with my mother and father. My father I think really helped me in the sense of having a sensibility about what he thought of as the common person and, of course, we were growing up within really working class Harlem. It was interesting: 1935 there was a race riot in Harlem and then the city decided that they needed to build housing and so with the feds, this was the first federally funded low rent housing project right across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium. There were 11,000 applicants for 550 places. Somehow, our family got into that. We were part of this growing up as really working class. When I met Ella [Baker] and she told me that she was involved in the co-op movement in Harlem, I said: "We were one of your workers because my mother and myself and my brother used to set up a little milk station in the hallway of one of the halls in the projects and every morning before the kids went to school, we sold them milk." Milk was 19 cents a quart and you had 20 quarts in a carton. If you sold two cartons worth, you got a penny for every quart you'd sell. That's how we got our work. My mother liked to read. She had graduated high school. She never went, neither Mom or Pop went to college, but she liked to read and in the projects, they had a little small like one-room library and the Schomburg, every Friday would open it up. They'd send somebody there and you could go in and select books and she always went religiously and so I would go with her all the time and pick out books so I got some of that from her.

BOND: What about your grandfather, William Henry Moses?

MOSES: It's interesting because I didn't know— I didn't understand and Pop really never made explicit his role, although he talked about how he traveled with him because my father was young enough so that when his father did the circuit through the south and Texas, he could travel with him free, so he spent a lot of time with him on the road but it was Frank Figures who was part of The Algebra Project in Jackson, Mississippi and was part of the National Baptist Convention that came to me and said, "your grandfather, William Henry Moses actually was the person who fought to keep the publishing part, the publishing house, of the National Baptist Convention in their control in the 1920s." He had looked it up in their archives.