Dr. Rhonda Sherrod
Eugene “Gene” Moore. His name is almost synonymous with Maywood. The Honorable Mayor Edwenna Perkins called him “Maywood’s Son” upon learning of his transition. On last Saturday, after listening to speaker after speaker extoll his love for Maywood, and his kindness and generosity toward its residents, what rang out loudest for me was how he helped to create a beloved community — the cherished community of my youth.
I watched as the beautiful brown-skinned pallbearers lifted his gleaming white casket into a sparkling glass carriage — a final ride fit for a prince, just as one speaker, Rev. Marvin E. Wiley, the pastor of Rock of Ages Baptist Church, had crowned him. The white horse that drew the carriage stood tall, disciplined, and regal, almost as if he understood the importance of his assignment for that day.
I had sat flooded with memories as I surveyed the sanctuary filled with old friends, many of whom I hadn’t seen in years, but whose embrace was as warm and loving as ever. There is just something special that characterizes the kids who grew up in my era in this village. We love each other and we love this village. I also scrutinized the sweet faces of the elders. I noted how they are still proud and strong, and how they were as “fly” as “Dick was when Sally died,” as many of those same elders used to say back in the day. I listened as speaker after speaker invoked what we were all no doubt feeling, a longing for the Maywood that was — the Maywood unsullied by bullets and bad-manners, the one where everyone wanted to witness the other survive and thrive.
Gene Moore was a good, hard-working family man who was attentive to his offsprings’ intellectual and social development, and who catered to their growing needs as they matured. He was a throwback to the days when that kind of statement was not uttered in “awe;” no, it was said with simple confirmation and awareness because that’s what the overwhelming majority of Black men in Maywood did — they took care of their families. They did not ask for or need a pat on the back to get up and find, or make, work. Nor, did they hesitate to make sacrifices for their children.
Gene’s life also represented community involvement, because his concern — like that of so many adults back then — was for all of Maywood’s children. He was always there to be of service or to be a surrogate father; and, on Saturday, many a speaker made that truth plain. They noted that Gene was often there when a kid graduated from college — to help usher her to a higher plane, and, when a kid was ascending, he was there to help lift him even higher. They said he was there for the assist when life had kicked a Maywoodian down — he would help that youngster get up and get it back together. Standing outside after the service, a childhood friend reminded me of how Gene would take his little league baseball team (Auto Renewal) to McDonald’s after their games.
All of that love for community came right back at Gene during his service as his granddaughter, Cheyenne, prepared for her “praise dance” tribute to him. The congregation had been alerted to the fact that this beautiful young lady was struggling, mightily, for she had already spoken and told us that her family “was worried about [her],” but that she would be “all right.” (Gene had been her father figure.) So, when Cheyenne stood poised in the back of the church, ready to commence her performance, many in the packed congregation rose to their feet — with a gift of affection and support for her. It was as if we were prepared to will her to dance, just in case grief overtook her. I heard one woman cry out, “Let Him use you.” But she didn’t need us. She was pure love in motion, a kinetic demonstration of the power her grandfather, no doubt, helped inculcate into her, power that we all hope she will use to propel herself to great heights.
In that moment, when people started standing up for Cheyenne, before she even began her dance, I glimpsed old Maywood, my Maywood, where love and pride in the children of the community knew no bounds. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would take to retrieve that Maywood. I know it is possible to recapture that beauty, that essential Maywood; and I know we are capable of more than simply wishing.
So many people of my generation have come back to Maywood, and so many more want to come back. I hear the conversations all the time. In these days, where the absolute need for a loving Black community to come home to every day is more acute than at any time in recent memory, for comfort, regeneration and succor, I know we can do it. Black people have a long, sterling history of creating strong brilliant communities within cities, and of governing our own towns. From Black Wall Street (the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma) to Rosewood, Florida and Mound Bayou, Mississippi, we have already done what many still don’t think we can. Aah, but that is the power of history. We must know Black history, and understand it, so we can continue advancing.
Gene Moore knew that. I remember telling him about my godfather, Cornelius Coffey, a pioneering Black aviator, master aircraft mechanic and educator, who died at the age of 91 in Chicago. Gene was regaled as I recounted my “Pa Pa’s” history of overpowering brilliance and unrelenting perseverance. Pa Pa developed a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) certified flight instruction school for “Negro” airmen and women, trained Tuskegee Airmen, invented an apparatus that revolutionized the airline industry, and was still flying at age 89. He has an aeronautical fix named after him coming into Midway Airport (the first African American to be so honored) and American Airlines named an educational foundation at its mechanical maintenance academy after him (because he trained many of the first African Americans who became aircraft mechanics for commercial airlines). Gene smiled that beautiful smile while listening, and he was beside himself when I brought my godfather’s story “on home.” During his distinguished career, Pa Pa had flown in and out of Maywood — using the same field Charles Lindbergh flew in and out of to deliver the mail.
Enthralled, Gene insisted that I come with him to his political office on 5th Avenue and Lake Street (as I recall), to relate Pa Pa’s story to the people gathered there. Reluctantly, I told the story to those politicos. Would they be at all interested since they had gathered after work for a meeting with a planned agenda? I was astonished by just how captivated they had been. And there was Gene, off to the side, smiling and shaking his head in wonderment, glancing around, pleased that everyone was sitting at rapt attention. It struck me then, and his eulogist, Maywoodian Dr. Eric King, said it Saturday: Gene was “a teacher.”
On that day, years ago, as he would often, Gene instructed me to teach a lesson that he knew people needed to have. After all, it’s the way we power our kids to the kind of greatness that my godfather achieved. Like me, Gene understood that we must tell the stories, so our kids can see who they really are, instead of conceptualizing themselves the way society deludes too many of them into thinking they are. Gene was just delighted every time he set me flowing on some fascinating topic that he was sure needed to be heard. That was Gene — ever proud of the kids from Maywood.
I shared many sweet, fun moments like that with Maywood’s Son. When I returned to the village, after a long absence, Gene invited me to what I called a Proviso East Pirates “playoff game.” (After all, the team, in true Pirate form under their then new coach, alumnus Donnie Boyce of “The Three Amigos” fame, played with the grace, poise, skill and talent of professionals. In fact, the Pirates would go on to take second in the state when they lost a heartbreaking championship game to Simeon — but not without a super fierce Pirate-style fight.)
Before the game, Gene’s penchant for being on time, which was duly noted on Saturday, meant that he would pick me up very early. I had sent my mother to the door to greet Gene and inform him that I wasn’t yet ready. My mom has been friends with Gene for years — ever since she sold real estate with Gene’s then wife, Rae Jean, at the old Penny’s Real Estate office on Fifth Avenue and Madison — so they laughed and chatted briefly, but gaily.
Then Gene went to pick up his other passengers, letting my mom know that he would swing back and get me last. When I got in the car with Gene and his friends, including Chat (David Sharp), from the old “Chat’s Corner,” I told him what my mom had instructed me to tell him. Mom said: “Tell Gene I asked, ‘Doesn’t he know anything about women by now?’” When I delivered my mom’s little quip, Gene, Chat and the other guy in the car rocked with laughter. Then, suddenly, Gene rolled all the car windows up and quipped back, “I know how you women are about your hair. I don’t want yours to get messed up.” We laughed and, on cue, I said, “Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to tell mom, you do know a little something about women.” And we laughed still again — in fact, we laughed all the way to the game, as they argued, with me mostly listening, about what to anticipate from the Pirates — which plays Donnie would run with which players, which player would have a “hot” hand and so-forth. Gene was in his element, a Pirate for life, and I will always remember that evening as a welcome home gift, a magical evening with the ever charming Gene Moore, Maywood’s Son.
Prior to Saturday’s eulogy, Dr. Eric King, queried Gene’s children, and some of his grandchildren, to get some of their thoughts about their father and grandfather.
King reported some of his findings. The Moore children had had plenty to say. Among other things, Natalie said her father taught her “to treat people nice” and how to “serve the public.” Eric declared that his “Pops” was his “everything,” and that Gene taught him “how to discipline myself and accept criticism.” He called Gene, “The Greatest.” Cheyenne said, “He’s my everything. My father died when I was 11. He stepped in and stood right by my side.” Her brother, Chase, said, “I am what I am because of what my grandfather taught me… He came to every one of my football games at home and away… He wanted me to be the best that I can be.” What a family legacy.
Perhaps Gene’s final act of kindness and goodness — his enduring legacy — to his beloved Maywood will be to shock this town into understanding that we need to come together, with all the talent we have in this village, to resurrect the kind of community we used to have, and to make it even better.
Rest in Peace, Gene.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.