That’s how Elder Charles Bradford described Dr. Earl Moore at his funeral, “the man who saved the Adventist Church from obscurity.” He was right.
The Sixties were tumultuous years in America. Presidents and pop stars alike were being murdered in the streets. The assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin King only made a bad situation worse. Cities from Newark to Detroit to Chicago were regularly in flames because of racial tensions.
But as bad as it was in the industrial north, it was considerably worse in the deep South. But it was in the South that black leaders like Charles Joseph, Randy Stafford, and others fearlessly led their communities and literally forced the Adventist church to confront the civil rights crisis.
Earl Moore led the charge. A graduate of Oakwood College and Loma Linda University, He pastored and later became the Community Services and Health and Welfare Director for the South-Central Conference. Moore was an amazing activist who was always pushing his community and his church to confront racism, injustice and poverty.
He Defied the General Conference
President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, but it was clear by 1968 that his heart wasn’t in it. Martin King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s response was to organize the Poor People’s Campaign. The campaign demanded economic and human rights for poor people. They set up a 3000-person protest camp on the Washington Mall, and stayed for 6 weeks.
Dr. Moore, Dr. Charles Joseph and the South-Central Conference had created a mobile medical unit that was offering free medical and dental care in the deep South. They brought relief to thousands. They decided to take the van and offer those same services to the crowds gathered for the Poor Peoples Campaign in D.C. But when the General Conference was alerted of their plans, they sent clear instructions for them not to go.
When Moore and his associates got word from the squeamish General Conference that they should not participate in the Poor Peoples Campaign, they sent back a response that I’ll always remember. Moore and his friends simply responded, “We’re going to Washington because our people are there.” And with that simple but straightforward response, they did what they had to do.
He Put The Church On The Map
Despite his defiance, or better, because of his defiance, the Adventist Church benefitted. Pictures of that mobile unit that defied the General Conference are currently on display in the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C. The van is also mentioned in the television documentary, “M.L. King: The Assassination Tapes.”
Earl Moore went on to become a recognized and respected civil and human rights leader. He worked alongside leaders like Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and others. For 20 years he was the vice-chairman for the Concerned Black Clergy of Atlanta. He brought much needed attention to the church for his local and national efforts.
He Supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Throughout his life, Moore was a strong supporter of Christian education in general and black educational institutions in particular. His son Wayne was one of my roommates at Oakwood and he is currently an emergency medical specialist in Gallatin, Tennessee. As a matter of fact, because of the influence and encouragement of Moore and others, 10 Moores graduated as physicians from Meharry Medical School in Nashville, Tennessee.
We Don’t Know Our History
There are few things that irritate me more than leaders who speak as though community activism began with them. It’s inaccurate and fundamentally disrespectful. And worse, it misses an opportunity to learn from those who worked under worse conditions than we can imagine. The years that I spent listening to and observing Dr. Moore, Dr. Joseph and others, were as valuable as any university education.
We owe an incredible debt to Dr. Earl Moore and other Adventist civil rights giants. We can make a dent in that debt with recognition and respect. But more than that, we can continue their amazing legacy by making a difference, right where we are.
What do you think? And how can we impact our communities…today?!