Cecil B. Moore
|Member of the Philadelphia City Council from the 5th District|
January 5, 1976 – February 13, 1979
|Preceded by||Ethel D. Allen|
|Succeeded by||John Street|
Cecil Bassett Moore
April 2, 1915
|Died||February 15, 1979 (aged 63)|
|Alma mater||Temple University|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Cecil Bassett Moore (April 2, 1915 – February 13, 1979) was a Philadelphia lawyer, civil rights activist who led the fight to integrate Girard College, president of the local NAACP, and member of Philadelphia's city council.
Born in West Virginia, Moore served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. In 1947, after his discharge at Fort Mifflin, he moved to Philadelphia and studied law at Temple University. Moore attended school at night and financed his studies with a job as a liquor wholesaler. He cultivated ties with the bar owners to whom he sold his wares and they became an important basis for his political constituency later in his career. He earned a reputation as a no-nonsense lawyer who fought on behalf of his mostly poor, African-American clients concentrated in North Philadelphia. From 1963 to 1967, he served as president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. He also served on the Philadelphia City Council.
Moore is best remembered for leading a picket against Girard College, which led to the desegregation of that school. He was also a champion of a wide range of causes central to the Civil Rights Movement, including integration of schools and trade unions, and increased political and economic representation for poor African Americans. He has been cred with helping to restore order after the unsettling vandalism and violence of the racially charged Columbia Avenue riot of 1964. During his tenure, membership in the local NAACP chapter expanded from 7,000 in 1962 to more than 50,000 within a few years.
Moore's aggressive manner and confrontational tactics alienated many leaders, black and white, including many within the NAACP who preferred negotiation "behind closed doors" over direct action. Moore himself acknowledged how his military service shaped his grassroots activism:
"I was determined when I got back [from World War II combat] that what rights I didn't have I was going to take, using every weapon in the arsenal of democracy. After nine years in the Marine Corps, I don't intend to take another order from any son of a bitch that walks."— Cecil B. Moore
Moore's military experience influenced him to question other leaders' use of nonviolence. Moore was rumored to have actively discouraged Martin Luther King Jr. from visiting Philadelphia; but he was one of the first civil rights leaders to have welcomed Malcolm X's growing role in the national movement. Moore's confrontational manner helped him cultivate a working-class constituency which enabled him to run independent black political campaigns outside the white establishment and traditional middle-class black networks. It also brought friction with the national NAACP which attempted to undercut Moore's power by splitting the Philadelphia chapter into three sub-branches. Moore nonetheless maintained massive public support within the black community.
In 1975, Moore sought the Fifth District seat on the Philadelphia City Council, after incumbent Councilwoman Ethel D. Allen announced she would vacate the seat, and seek re-election to an at-large seat. Moore would go on to win the election. As Moore was nearing the end of his first term, attorney John Street announced his intention to challenge Moore for his seat in the 1979 election. While Moore was, by that time, in failing health, he initially vowed to see-off the challenge from Street. However, he died before the May primary. Street went on to win the election, and quelled some of the tensions over his original challenge to Moore by sponsoring a bill to rename the former Columbia Avenue in Moore's honor.
Over time, appreciation for Moore has grown beyond the working poor with whom he long enjoyed popularity, and he is cited as a pivotal figure in the fields of social justice and race relations.