BEFORE COMING TO Krsna consciousness, I had a mentor for whom I still maintain great respect and loving affection. Although no one has done for the world what Srila Prabhupada has, what Queen Mother Audley Moore has accomplished in her lifetime awes me. She was born in 1898, in a small Louisiana town called New Iberia. Last July, Queen Mother Moore turned 95.
By an odd chance, she and I met in a Goodwill thrift shop. Since the store served as a warehouse, it was the size of a football field. I was darting through the aisles on a mission to seek and horde all I could find. She, meanwhile, was scrutinizing an oriental rug. Then I saw her, and although she wasn't in her usual exotic attire, something about her presence made me have to know her.
I was 22 and she was 81, and at that very first glimpse of her my whole agenda changed. I had to know her. So I offered her a lift home in the hope she wasn't driving. She accepted my offer, and during our ride it gradually unfolded that Queen Mother Moore had traveled the globe on speaking tours throughout America, Africa, and the Caribbean. I learned that she had been given her honorary title for her contributions to the cause of "black liberation," first by a group of students in the 1950s, and then more officially in 1972 by the Ashanti government of Ghana, Africa.
A week later I went to one of her lectures at New York Technical College, where she presented the history of America's brutal slave trade and its aftermath. I'll never forget the bitter cold that night, and how, once I heard the weather report, I expected her to cancel the engagement. Snow was threatening, and it was ten-degree weather, with a wind chill making it well below zero. So far as I was concerned, in that weather even someone my age could barely get around, let alone someone her age; but Queen Mother cheerfully kept her appointment, accompanied by me and her 78-year-old sister Loretta, who was so bent by rheumatism she couldn't walk without crutches.
At that talk, Queen Mother offered vivid descriptions of the slave ships, telling how Africans were chained and then lined up and crammed together squatting, with hardly even breathing room. She showed diagrams of a slave ship. When a slave grew seasick, she described, he was left there to vomit on his nearest compatriot. Or if (as many did) a slave were to die in transport, his body was simply left there until he could be conveniently thrown overboard. Sharks followed the slave ships for evening meals.
Yet how much did things get better for us in America during and after slavery? Even after slavery was abolished, she told us, the U.S. government enacted "black codes" that denied "Negroes" basic rights like the right to assemble in public or defend oneself in court against claims by a white man. These black codes effectively stripped blacks of the benefits of citizenship, while burdening us with its responsibilities.
These horrific experiences of slavery and discrimination, Queen Mother said, resulted in a "concocted individual called a Negro" who no longer resembled his original form, a person "altered and de-natured" into what she called oppression psycho-neurosis, a state of self-hate and self-destruction.
Queen Mother Moore has spent close to seventy years pondering and speaking out on these issues. In the thirties she struggled to organize black domestic workers to seek higher wages, and later founded organizations, canvassed door to door, raised money for drug rehabilitation groups, and did tours of churches, colleges and prisons.
It all started in her youth, in the 1920s, when she marched with black leader Marcus Garvey. Much of her teachings came from Garvey's "Back to Africa" movement, which she expounded on with writings of her own.
Although I had been superficially acquainted with the ugly abominations of slavery, till I met her I had never heard such a clear discussion of the abuses Africans had suffered, nor seen anyone so painstakingly committed to combating such evils. All this had great impact on me, a young black woman who had already witnessed incidents of racism and seen the subtle signs of self-hatred in myself.
The Queen Mother's exposing us to the glorious heritage of African civilizations rejuvenated my pride and put me back on a path I had wavered from. Yet somehow it wasn't enough to replenish the spirit within me or restore it to health and happiness.
Well, fortunately Queen Mother Moore had another part of her platform. "Know thyself is the first law of nature," she would say. "If a cat had kittens in the oven, you wouldn't call them biscuits." And so beyond urging that we memorialize our ancestors with monuments and seek reparations for the injuries against us, she strongly endorsed that blacks search after their true identity, and at all costs strive for the highest liberation to know "our selves" (which she believed were African).
Queen Mother was so committed to this search for our true identity that she established a research institute, which studied the works of Plato and Socrates, Garvey, W. E. B. Dubois, and others. To inspire us to define and seek true liberation, in many of her speeches she quoted a remark by Benjamin Franklin. That remark still has profound effect on me: "Those who seek temporary shelter" (be it food, jobs, or housing, she would footnote) "above the basic liberties" (like personhood, mobility, and freedom of speech) "deserve neither."
How then did Queen Mother Moore start pursuing Krsna consciousness? Well, encouraged by her conviction, and by the words of Benjamin Franklin she quoted, I continued to search for my true self and those "basic liberties" she taught were my birthright. In years to come, that search led me to the Krsna consciousness movement, to Vedic study, and to the gradual realization that I am not my body. The real source of my sufferings, I came to understand, is my spiritual disconnection from God, which subjects me to an endless cycle of changing bodies, with their aging, disease, and death.
Naturally I was eager to share this knowledge with Queen Mother Moore, who had always thirsted for the truth, who had been so generous and compassionate to me, and who was herself fast approaching a change of body. So I visited her and we spoke at length about Krsna. I brought her some books and maha-prasadam. On later occasions I took with me my brother Hladini Sakti Dasa, and he too preached about Krsna's glories, plus the joy and necessity of serving Krsna, and of transcending the bodily platform.
Queen Mother Moore was receptive to these ideas, and almost instantly attracted to the philosophy. She asked me to write down the maha-mantra for her so she could learn to recite Krsna's names aloud. Of course, to me this wasn't the first sign of her transcendental leanings. Over the years of going with her to lectures, I had made a point of looking closely in her for signs of racism, which I knew my heart couldn't approve. And so while reporters clicked their pens and flashed their cameras and grateful admirers sought her autograph, I always looked deep and close at her face. I would especially watch her eyes when she greeted people with white bodies, just to see her reaction. (I even noted, as most newspapers did not, that Queen Mother Moore would sometimes welcome white activists into her fold, because for her what mattered was one's philosophy, not one's complexion.)
It was from this kind of scrutiny that I became convinced that while Queen Mother may have been misled by the material nature, she was by no means a racist.
Well, any doubts I might have had about Queen Mother's racial feelings were thoroughly dispelled last December when I visited her again for preaching. This time I told her, straight out, of my plans to take initiation from a white-bodied sadhu named Dhanurdhara Swami, who was instructing me on the real goal of life to revive my dormant love of God and thus break the cycle of rebirth.
Right there and then, Queen Mother Moore turned to me and smilingly nodded. "I'm so glad you've found your way, darling," she said. Then, as only a great soul could, she joined me in rejoicing my victory for she realized that I had succeeded in surrendering my false ego and body consciousness to the higher platform of loving God.
This all occurred between November 1990 and March 1992. In January 1992, Queen Mother Moore visited Nigeria, taking the Bhagavad-gita with her to read on the plane. When she returned from that trip, she gave me a letter personally endorsing the Hare Krsna movement, saying that she fully accepted Lord Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and fully accepted the authority of the Vedas.
Eight months later, despite her difficulty in walking, she made her second visit to the Brooklyn temple, where she met some devotees, greeted the Deities, and did a small tour of the temple, asking many questions all the while.
Upon seeing Radha and Govinda, she at once exclaimed: "My, I've never seen anything so beautiful! Christians don't have nothing on you Hare Krsnas." As might be expected, she also asked devotees how Vedic culture approaches funeral rites and burials.
Over my years of associating with Queen Mother Moore, I've been inspired by her sacrifice and her uncompromising will to tell the truth. Now I'm delighted to see that Audley Moore is just as staunchly committed to accepting the truth (once she has heard it) as to telling it. This integrity has helped make her Krsna conscious.
Krsna has always promised that if we sincerely endeavor for the Absolute Truth, He will reveal Himself to us through the mercy of a devotee, if only a novice one like me. Well, Queen Mother's interest in Krsna consciousness is just one of the many confirmations I've seen of Krsna's unlimited mercy.
Over the years, Queen Mother has amassed a large following and touched the lives and hearts of many people. Schools have been opened in her name, and many celebrated people hold her in esteem. So her endorsement is worth its weight in gold. It may help attract many wandering conditioned souls who like me have been searching for truth and liberation.
As a devotee I'm naturally grateful to everyone who has helped me surrender to Krsna. Queen Mother Moore is such a person. I hope you will join me in praying for this great lady.
Bhaktin Robin and her husband, Bhakta Stewart, are members of the Hare Krsna community in Los Angeles.
Letter from Queen Mother Moore
Dear Makeda [Robin] and Hladini Shakti das:
I wanted to thank you for bringing Krsna consciousness into my life, with various Vaishnava concepts as expressed in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Though relatively new to me, of the various texts I've read, I consider this to be among the highest and most meritorious.
As a staunch freedom fighter for several decades, I've seen the endless futility of material struggles, many of which I concede arise from falsely identifying with the type and complexion of our bodies. Through this literature, I have found solace. Now I have faith that as stated in Bhagavad-gita, we are not our bodies, but eternal spirit souls that can occupy limitless types of bodies. This knowledge makes perfect sense to me, and I'm glad to finally find something that has such a resounding ring of truth to it. Again, I thank you for bringing me the Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
I did not have the pleasure of knowing the founder of your movement, but I feel much empathy with his mission and realize this to be the essence of knowledge that can liberate all people African and otherwise.