An engrossing social history and memoir of activist and civic leader, Mollie Moon, whose fundraising prowess helped propel the Civil Rights Movement.
How was the Civil Rights Movement funded? Thousands of organizers needed to be paid, cars and freedom buses needed gas, volunteers needed to eat. Organizations behind the movement spent close to a billion dollars over the decades it took to battle Jim Crow laws and pass the Civil Rights Act.
In Our Secret Society: Mollie Moon and the Glamour, Money, and Power Behind the Civil Rights Movement, author Tanisha C. Ford brilliantly illuminates a little known yet highly significant aspect of the civil rights movement that has been long overlooked—the powerhouse fundraising effort that supported the movement—the luncheons, galas, cabarets, and traveling exhibitions attended by middle-class and working-class Black families, the Black press, and titans of industry, including Winthrop Rockefeller.
No one knew this world better or ruled over it with more authority than the formidable Mollie Moon, the stylish founder of the National Urban League Guild and fundraiser extraordinaire who reigned over the glittering "Beaux Arts Ball,” the social event of New York and Harlem society for fifty years—a glamorous event rivaling today’s Met Gala, drawing America’s wealthy and cultured, both Black and white.
Mollie, along with her husband Henry Lee Moon, the longtime publicist for the NAACP, became half of one of the most influential couples of the period. Vivacious and intellectually curious, Mollie frequently hosted political salons attended by guests including Paul and Eslanda Robeson, Countee Cullen, Augusta Savage, Walter White, and Lorraine Hansberry.
Plagued by poverty and instability in her early life, Mollie Moon found solidarity with a group of young, Black artists and playwrights who were sponsored by the Soviet Union to shoot a film in Moscow co-written by their friend Langston Hughes. Moon went on to live and work in Berlin and her experiences in Europe informed her determination to return and fight against the Jim Crow system in the United States. Her lifelong activity in the movement culminated as president of the National Urban League Guild, the fundraising arm of the National Urban League, where she helped raise millions to fund grassroots activists battling for economic justice and racial equality. She was a force behind the mutual aid network that connected Black churches, domestic and blue-collar laborers, social clubs, and sororities and fraternities across the country.
Ford brings Mollie Moon into focus as never before, charting her rise from Jim Crow Mississippi to doyenne of Manhattan and Harlem, where she became one of the most influential philanthropists of her time—a woman admired by many, resented by some, and yet widely respected.
Our Secret Society ushers us into a world with its own rhythm and rules, led by its own Who’s Who of African Americans in politics, sports, business, and entertainment. It is both a window into a transitional and exciting period in America, spanning from the early 1930s through the late 1960s, and a portrait of a formidable woman who fearlessly opened new doors and strode through them with grace and aplomb.
Our Secret Society will be published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins, in October 2023.
Meet the Author
Tanisha C. Ford is a cultural critic and star academic. A professor of history at The Graduate Center, CUNY, she has written for the New York Times, the Atlantic, Time, the Root, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and featured on NPR, among other places. She was named to the Root’s list of the 100 Most influential African Americans. In addition to Our Secret Society, Ford is the author of Dressed in Dreams, Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful, and Liberated Threads, which won the 2016 Organization of American Historians’ Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for best book on civil rights history. She lives in Harlem. Read more