In The Steps of Esteban: Tucson's African American Heritage

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Lettie Moore

Summary of a 1991 oral history by O. Carr; 1996

Lettie Dee Barton Moore was born in Leesville, Texas, on July 8, 1908. She was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Worth Barton also of Leesville. She went to school in Leesville through high school.

In 1930, Lettie, her mother, and her infant daughter moved to Hurley, Texas, to visit an aunt. The next year, the three went to visit another aunt in Tucson, where they settled.

When first moving to Tucson, Lettie and her mother both held a variety of domestic jobs. Domestic work was the major type of work that Black women were allowed to have. Throughout the forties and fifties, Lettie Moore worked for the University of Arizona as a housekeeper for a sorority and later a fraternity house. Later in 1956, she took a job as a matron for women in the county jail. In 1966, Mrs. Moore retired from the sheriff's department.

Summary of an Interview with Mrs. Lettie Moore; 1991
by Oran Carr

This is an interview with Mrs. Lettie Dee Moore at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Doris Rush.

I first met Mrs. Moore at the Quincy Center located in the South Park area of town. Mrs Moore had lived on the south side for some 60 or more years and was one of the original members of this south side community. She was at the Quincy Center for a neighborhood social for the residents of the south side. In the far corner of a long black table sat a frail, quiet woman who seemed overwhelmed by all the activity going on around her. One of the sponsors of the event introduced her to me and indicated that she had come to Tucson in 1931. I approached Mrs. Moore and introduced myself as a student of the University who was involved in a study by the Arizona Historical Society concerning the early settlers of Arizona of African American heritage and indicated that I would like to interview her.

She answered in a low, soft voice, "Sure, but I don't know if I would have anything interesting to say, but I'll try."

I met Mrs. Moore at her daughter's home at Waverly street in the Sugarhill section of Tucson. In recent years Mrs. Moore has begun to have memory lapses, especially in the area of short-term recall or recent events. Her long-term memory, on the other hand, remains relatively good for a person of 83 years. Because of her memory deficits, her daughter, Doris Rush, was present for the interview and helped out when needed, and on occasion offered comments of her own.

Mrs. Lettie Dee Barton Moore was born in Leesville, Texas, on July 8, 1908. She was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Worth Barton also of Leesville. She described Leesville as "just a li'l ol' country town" where she lived with her parents and grandmother.

Mrs. Moore's grandmother was a very important figure in her life and she spoke of her fondly as the major influence in her life. While Mrs. Moore was growing up, her grandmother taught her how to read even though her grandmother could not read herself. What she would do is have little Lettie read from the Bible, and she (the grandmother) being a woman who knew the scriptures well, would correct or pronounce any words Lettie might mispronounce or miss.

Mrs. Moore went to school in Leesville through high school. She talked about going to school by foot or by buggy (that worked as a school bus). The buggy would stop at each student's house or at a central meeting place and collect all the little Black children for school. Though Mrs. Moore didn't live in Leesville proper, the school teacher lived in a room at her house, so she was allowed to attend the school in Leesville.

In 1930, Mrs. Moore, her mother, and her infant daughter moved to Hurley, Texas, to visit a sister of her mother. After a year in Hurley, all three went to visit another aunt in Tucson (1931) where she stayed and raised her daughter and son. Lettie lived with her mother and children in Tucson.

Mrs. Moore worked many different types of jobs in the beginning of her time in Tucson, mostly domestic types of work as did her mother. Domestic work was the major type of work allowed by the white community for Blacks. Discrimination of Black people wasn't as obvious for the people of Tucson because Blacks and whites understood where they were in the social order. It was only in the later years of Mrs. Moore's life that the changes in attitudes came about which affected her in a positive way.

Throughout the forties and fifties, Mrs. Moore worked for the University of Arizona as a housekeeper for a sorority and later a fraternity house. She enjoyed the work and felt no real discrimination save the occasional inconsiderateness of the youth at the houses. Later in 1956, Mrs. Moore began to work for the sheriffs department as a matron for women in the county jail. Her treatment at the sheriffs department was good but the promotions were never to come. Mrs. Moore talked of incidents where she would be instructed to train a new employee on how to be a matron only to have the new employee assigned over her as her supervisor. It was at that point Mrs. Moore realized that her treatment was different from the white employees, so she refused to continue the training of new people.

In 1966, Mrs. Moore retired from the sheriff's department. She participates in church activities and is a member of the Modern Matrons and Jollyette Club. She is a very active person in the Black community though her health has slowed her involvement.

When I asked Mrs. Moore how Tucson has changed from then to now, she said, with the help of Mrs. Rush, that the changes were large. They talked of a cohesive community in the past where neighbors knew each other and there was a cooperation in the Black community, but now there seems to be a selfishness and unconcern for the Black community. In Mrs. Moore's neighborhood, since it is one of the older communities, she knows most of her neighbors (in the South Park area), but now in the Sugarhill area (the other major Black section of Tucson along with "A" Mountain) where Mrs. Rush lives, no one knows even their neighbors on either side of them. The crime of Blacks on Blacks seems to be higher than it was from a time when stealing and violence were unheard of. Mrs. Rush was a student of Dunbar School where the Black children went to school together, but after the closing of Dunbar the children were sent out of the community to other schools with whites, thereby changing the community unity forever.

Mrs. Moore now lives with her daughter at Waverly street and is renting out her home at South Park. She still drives her own car to the store and church though her daughter worries for her safety because of her memory lapses. On occasion, Mrs. Moore forgets and will leave her car parked outside the store and walk home but, still, she is doing well.

My interview was with Mrs. Moore, but I think it might be useful in future studies to also interview Mrs. Rush since she was very active in the Black community and has lived her entire life here in Tucson. There is a lot of valuable information in Mrs. Rush's experience in growing up as a Black child in Tucson and a willingness by her to relay that experience on for future study.

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