Amzie Moore follows in the footsteps of his father, a leading light in the fight for civil rights
Students in the master's program at SSA often learn fascinating information in class, but the news Amzie Moore discovered last year was something else altogether. During a discussion of the civil rights era in his policy course, he had mentioned to then faculty member Judith Levine that his father, also named Amzie, had been a pioneer in the struggle in Mississippi. "She was interested and looked into him. So the next class she told me that [SSA's Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor] Charles Payne had written a chapter in one of his books about him. I had no idea," says Moore. "I went and got the book, and I have to say the research was extremely accurate. It was like he lived with us."
Payne devotes an early chapter in I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle to the elder Moore, noting that "if asked to choose one person as the forerunner of the work they did in mississippi in the 1960s... veteran SNCC workers would overwhelmingly choose Amzie Moore." No wonder; after WWII, Moore helped start the state's regional Council of Negro Leadership, saw the church that served as his headquarters burned down after an NAACP meeting in 1955, refused to put up "colored" and "white" signs over the restrooms at his service station, and was a pioneer in attracting federal attention to racist terror tacticsin the state. "Threats against his life were almost constant," Payne writes.
"My father deeply influenced the work I do," Moore says today. "You look at what was accomplished by people like him—and that includes work he did helping establish subsidized housing for low income families and economic development for people in the area—and I'm certain that he'd be proud to see me here at SSA."
The 37-year old Moore's journey to SSA did not follow a straight line. After high school in Mississippi, he served nearly seven years in the Navy, after which he earned a B.A. at Hampton University in Virginia. Nine years ago, he moved to Chicago with the idea that he'd apply to law school, but, disillusioned as he learned about the difficulties in impacting social justice through the courts, he ended up with a job "in corporate America," as he puts it.
An article in the Chicago Tribune brought Moore back to his need to work for social change. "It noted that one out of five African-American children drops out of high school," he recalls. "I felt like I needed to do something about this crisis. I wanted to work with young people."
Moore found a position at a community center as the after-school program director, then in the foster care system at a residential facility for children and later as case manager and a residential assistant in a transitional living program. "I started observing how a lot of policies didn't make sense with what we were seeing on the ground. I had heard about SSA's social administration concentration and so I applied. I knew at the School I could get the intellectual and theoretical foundation I needed to achieve whatever I wanted to do next."
As one of SSA's 82 evening program students, Moore has kept his current job as case manager for the screening assessment support services program with the Community Mental Health Council while taking classes, which have included "The Social Meaning of Race," a class taught by Payne, who had no idea that Moore was at the School. "After I read his book, I sent him an email. He was shocked," Moore says. "We had lunch and talked about the civil rights movement and what I had been doing. Then I took his course and it was one of the best classes I've taken at SSA."
Moore says that throughout, the School has been what he had hoped it would be. "It's been humbling to me to be at SSA. There are some of the smartest people I've ever met here, and I'm getting new perspectives and being forced to think hard about how things work," he says. "That can only benefit me in the long run."
Moore isn't sure which direction his career will go after he graduates at the end of 2009, but his interest in providing a better life for children has lead to a focus on support for families. "I'm interested in what causes disorganization in families, particularly African-American families, and how to mitigate that impact on young people," he says. "I may become involved with research that helps influence social policy."