My father, Donald T. Moss, was born the youngest of nine children in the Jim Crow South, in a small town called Winnfield, Louisiana in 1937 to Lorenza and Frank Moss. By the time he was 5 years old, his mother had succumbed to diabetes. Frank (born in 1886) & Lorenza, my grandparents, were the first generation of our family born free from slavery in America. Frank’s mother, my great grandmother, was born as an enslaved person and birthed 12 biracial children, fathered by the enslaver. Most of these children left Louisiana to pass for white. My father is the 2nd generation in our family that was born free from enslavement. He was molded by his father, Frank’s advocacy for Black People in his hometown, Winnfield.
Frank Moss, working as a brakeman for the railroad, had standing in the community. Because he had a secure and steady income, he was able to own his own house, a cow, and chickens. When it was time to build a school for Black children, he put his home on the line to borrow money for the school and to pay their first teacher(s). He managed to send at least six or seven of his children to college. Aunt Louise was already a mother and Glen had paraplegia, consequently he never attended school. Glen educated himself and was so brilliant that they called him “the book” and he was known all across the parish for coaching the little league baseball team.
My dad’s siblings mostly became educators. My dad wanted to be a lawyer. While in his first year of law school at Southern University in Baton Rouge, he led a sit-in at a local lunch counter. Sixteen students were arrested and labeled “The Southern 16”. The law stated that any student arrested was to be expelled from school. So, after being expelled, my dad worked for the NAACP as an organizer. Eventually, he was given refuge and a scholarship to Howard University’s (Howard) Law School. He married my mother and they moved to Washington, DC. My mom was a scientist and taught botany and biology at Howard, while working on her PhD at Catholic University. In the meantime, I was born in 1961. By 1963, my sister came, and we went to the March on Washington as a family. My parents bought a small row house, near Howard, on Water Street. I remember the next-door neighbor grew roses in her yard. And we had an old washing machine where you had to manually wring out the clothes. My dad failed law school for a million reasons – the distractions of living in the big city, his civil rights work, the need to make money as a new father, and grown-up things I will never know about as well.
What I do know is that he spent the rest of his life and career working and serving the Black community. The NAACP, Community Action Agency, Southern University, The Job Corp Program, and The City of Cleveland, Ohio, to name a few. It would take 40 years for Southern University to recognize the contributions of “The Southern 16” and award them their honorary degrees. My dad was honored with a law degree but was offended that they took so long and left his degree with them.
It is his ability to speak truth to power, to see clearly, to envision a new way to think and live, to stay the course and to live his truth that lives on in me and my children. I celebrate these qualities and the practical ways in which I learned to move and instill values of integrity, justice and love for Black people and culture and history in my family. I celebrate and attribute it to my father, Donald T. Moss, and my grandfather, Frank Moss. I stand on their shoulders in the fight for freedom and equality. I stand on their shoulders making a way out of no way and contributing to the next 7 generations of the Black community in America. And I celebrate all the ways they loved through everything that was going on back then and how I love today despite everything that is going on now in our world. And in the African tradition, I call their names so they will live on forever and their contributions to the freedom of Black people will forever be remembered. Ase’