The sun barely peeked through the window as Dr. Bernard Moore rose and prepared for his day. His first obligation is to his best friend and companion, a faithful bull terrier named April May. After taking her for a vigorous walk, they settle into his book-filled library/office. Although one can hear CNN in the background, Dr. Moore’s focus today is on showing me the ancestry book that outlines so much of his family history and talking about the process of gathering the incredible amount of information, that was the inspiration, behind writing a compelling story about his family’s legacy beginning with his great-great-great grandfather, Tal Jones. His fascinating story includes members of his family who chose the academic route and became civic leaders in the community and others who prospered financially through a series of not-so-legal encounters.
In the midst of his family research, Dr. Moore has begun to write a book that combines his love of genealogy, history, and political science to bring his great-great-great family’s story to life as well as a screenplay. In fact, the current screenplay has been recognized as “Best” in over 20 highly competitive film festivals.
While moving from his office to his living room to discuss his upbringing, I notice a beautifully framed photo of his mother sitting prominently next to one of the treasured and rare photographs of Tal. Speaking in soft narrative tones, Dr. Moore describes his mother’s journey in 1950, traveling from Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Los Angeles with one suitcase and $25 (the average weekly wage for a domestic worker in the 50s). Throughout her life, she was a businesswoman and caregiver who endured the pressure of raising two boys. Dr. Moore saw in his mother a strong, buoyant, self-contained black woman, providing protection against a prejudiced and biased world against blacks. Even as she worked to establish a business that would provide security for her family, she still found the time to share much of the family’s oral history. What contributed to her resilience against an unfair society? One can only surmise that it was the strength of her ancestors who prevailed against all odds.
Dr. Moore grew up in California. He recalls a loving and stable childhood, although his parents were divorced by the time he was in second grade. However, they both played an integral role in his upbringing. When he was eight years old, his family moved from Compton to Inglewood. Neither parent was prepared for school integration which caused racial tensions in their community. He remembers only minor incidences but would occasionally hear about major violence related to busing in other areas of the city in adult conversations.
He enjoyed school and began his love of history by listening to his mother, grandmother, and aunts’ oral recollections. The pride of his family legacy compelled him to tell the proud history of Tal Jones and his descendants, from slave to oilman, at a time when the odds were clearly stacked against Blacks.
He listened and he learned. He retained much of the family’s oral history, a contrast of great, interesting, and what is often called “Messy.” But it is all a part of his family’s drama of the human experience, undoubtedly worthy of historical consideration.
Dr. Moore has uncovered not only a complex and controversial story behind his family but the pride of claiming relatives like Wallace Willas, who wrote the popular American songs “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Steel Away to Jesus”, “The Angels are Coming”, and “I’m a Rollin”.
“As a Black person,” said Dr. Moore, “we cannot change the fact that we are descendants of either the slave or the master, and for many, both. We come from a complex history where impeccable records of slaves as chattel were kept related to ownership. But, keeping slave families together and recording their birth, death, and lineage was of no consequence to the slave owner. This is why oral history is vital to the legacy of the Black family.”
Dr. Moore believes that in today’s political climate, disallowing students from learning about Black history is now being challenged and opens the door to inaccurate information.
As a historian and genealogist, Dr. Moore’s personal family history will hopefully empower others to begin to discover that which will lead to the truth.
He is currently in the process of planning a series of lectures related to his own genealogy and how to begin to research family history.
About Dr. Moore
Bernard Moore earned a Ph.D. degree in Political Science in the discipline of American Politics – Public Law – Black Politics at Howard University and a Master of Arts degree in American Politics from Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Moore has taught undergraduates at Williams College, Howard University, and the University of Oxford. Professionally, Dr. Moore has been a political strategist and a recognized academic scholar in Black Politics and African American Genealogy. He is a recognized authority in the U.S. Congress and legislative affairs and an academic scholar in American Politics. He served as a Senior Policy Advisor/Fellow to the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Principal Policy Fellow for members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Dr. Moore is also an expert in criminal justice reform issues that pertain to reducing recidivism by evidence base practices.