By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Let me warn you. I consider myself an activist and a bit of a radical, Black Catholic.
I was taught how to read and write by African-American nuns in West Baltimore. That is, at St. Pius V Catholic School in Harlem Park, a kindergarten to eighth grade building with a convent folded into half of the four-story structure. Those sisters insisted we know an adverb from an adjective and things like subject verb agreement and the parts of speech.
I had seven siblings so we practically had one of us in each of the grades—your brothers’ or sister’s reputation preceded you.
We were born at home in Sandtown-Winchester even though the only Black hospital, Provident Hospital, was just a few blocks away. Dr. Richard Hunt, who delivered us all, came up from Franklin Street to do his magic on Mosher Street.
We walked south to get to school and once we had crossed our first street we were in a different neighborhood walking from Sandtown to the newly minted Urban Renewal area, Harlem Park.
Until I traveled 10 miles to go to Loyola High School, my world was mostly a few blocks: back and forth to school, to church, to the laundromat, to the corner grocery stores and weekly visits to Branch 17 of the Enoch Pratt Library on North and Pennsylvania Avenues.
On my way to or from the library, I would see the then anti-war Catholic priest, Father Philip Berrigan, SSJ, going into St. Peter Claver Church on Fremont Avenue. He, his brother, Father Daniel Berrigan, SJ and his eventual wife, Elizabeth (Liz) McAlister led a series of actions against the draft that started in Baltimore and multiplied across the country. Those acts caused President Nixon to end the military draft and ultimately to close down the Vietnam War in southeast Asia.
Young Black men were dying at disproportionate levels to our numbers in the population (the total Black count 300,000 out of the total of everyone who served, 2,700,000). Martin Luther King was one of the first major figures to denounce the War in Vietnam. “America is the greatest purveyor (a person or group that spreads an idea or view) of violence in the world,” he said on April 4, 1967. Exactly one year to the day after his earth shattering speech at Riverside Baptist Church in New York, King was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
Just 20 days later, Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army on April 28, 1967. He became a peace hero bigger than a boxing champion, beloved and revered all over the world. King and Ali were inspirational to Father Phil Berrigan who with colleagues known as the Baltimore Four poured blood on draft records at the Custom House in Baltimore as a protest against the draft and the war. Their action was on October 27, 1967, six months after MLK and Ali made their very courageous statements. They inspired me to co-found a summer Peace Camp for kids 15 years ago.
I evolved into an activist watching these men from afar. But it was the meeting of two civil rights activists from North Carolina who influenced me years after they settled in Baltimore. Their names were: Sampson Green and Walter P. Carter. I learned how to be a man who fights for justice from these men who were my mentors. I have learned a lot from a lot of folks. I’ve been shaped and formed by good parents, a strong grandmother or two, the Oblate Sisters of Providence (the Black nuns), some great Jesuit priests, the late chaplain at Johns Hopkins University and the residents of Johnston Square in East Baltimore.
I have learned a lot from my wife, Dana, my children and my grandchildren at times. I am a lucky man. But enough about me. I will be reporting to you what I see and hear as I wander around our area, virtually or in person.
I have strong opinions and I write them down.
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