The Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr., a pioneering member of the District’s early home rule government and pastor of the historic 19th Street Baptist Church for 50 years, died last month. He was 99. Accolades about his political and religious contributions to the city will surely highlight his funeral on Wednesday.
As D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bower (D) put it after learning about Moore’s death, “When we talk about standing on the shoulders of those who went before us, we are referring to people like Moore — a champion for the District and a devoted source of comfort and support for all who he reached.”
I tend to be in awe of anyone who makes it into their 90s, not to mention their 100s. Especially those who, like Moore, grew up in the post Reconstruction Era south. His lifetime spanned nearly a century that included the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan and their reemergence, along with that of white nationalists and a president who sympathizes with them. Just the thought of it boggles the mind.
Moore was born in 1918, in Minden, La., a Jim Crow hellhole located in the northwest part of the state. Most of the lynching in Louisiana occurred in the swampy backwoods along a stretch that included his hometown, just south of the Arkansas line, not far from the Texas border, between 1900 and 1960.
Yet, thanks to his parents and the protective cocoon of Minden’s rural black community, he was able to graduate from high school and make it into Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Historically black schools, such as Morehouse, along with seminaries and churches, were producing some of the nation’s foremost civil rights leaders. Moore wanted to join them.
In 1940, after graduating from that school, he came to the District and enrolled at Howard University, earning a bachelor’s of divinity. Soon after, he was named pastor of the 19th Street Baptist Church, one of the oldest Baptist churches in the city. Moore was 27.
It should be noted that such accomplishments by African Americans from Moore’s generation are often taken for granted. Theirs is one of the greatest generations of African Americans, in my view — living through a reign of Klan terror and the Great Depression, plus World War II. They used education and military service to make a quantum leap toward equality.
“He wanted to reach out beyond the boundaries of the traditional Baptist preacher and be more like [the Rev. Martin Luther] King and [the Rev. Ralph] Abernathy,” said Jerry Moore III, the oldest of Moore’s two sons. My father loved people, and he loved to serve. He always visited the sick. He’d leave at 8 a.m. and come home at 11 p.m., sometimes seven days a week for months at a time. Because that was his thing. I call it the ‘Spike Lee Do the Right Thing’ministry.’”
Moore, a moderate Republican, was first appointed to the D.C. council by president Richard M. Nixon in 1969, when Republicans controlled the White House and the District government. When Congress granted limited home rule to the city in 1974, Moore’s seat on the council was virtually guaranteed by a charter provision prohibiting any one party in this overwhelmingly Democratic town from holding more than two of the four at-large council seats.
Moore was also co-founder of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, which sought ways to increase minority contractors on government construction projects. In that position, as well as his chairmanship of the D.C. council committee on transportation and a seat on the Metro transit board, Moore achieved some notable successes. Several black firms were able to grow into powerhouses as a result of construction contracts for the billion-dollar-plus Metro subway system.
However, progress since then has been sporadic. In 2016, Metro set a goal to award 25 percent of its contracts to woman- or minority-owned firms. The agency awarded only 11 percent, then decided to lower the goal for 2017.
Other problems Moore wrangled also persist.
In the 1980s, Moore tried to get 50,000 parents to sign their children up for standardized tests.
“We think parents should know how well their children are doing, and then get behind their children and make sure they do better,” Moore said. “Many parents simply don’t know where their children stand in reading and arithmetic.”
So it was nearly 40 years ago, so it is today.
Of course, not everything can be fixed in a lifetime, no matter how long and productive the life. But Moore did show how to make the most of it: By serving others.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.