I previously wrote a story about Mose Graham (Brother Mose) entitled Ollie and the Meat Cleaver in which I described him as a fun-loving man who worked for our family when I was a young boy. Brother Mose had quite an impact on me during those years and instilled in me some of the values in life by which I try to live.
My sister Marilyn and I knew Brother Mose better than anyone in our family and probably better than most of his friends. The simple reason is because we spent so much time with him, listening to his stories, his songs, watching him dance little jigs in fun and learning his philosophy of life. After Marilyn married George Berry in 1957, George got to know Brother Mose like all of the family, and today the 3 of us are the only family members who remember Brother Mose well enough to enjoy sharing those remembrances.
One of the stories I heard more than once from Brother Mose concerned his experience regarding a boxing match he had with the star of a travelling boxing troupe. In the depression years of the 1930’s up to World War II, there were frequent travelling shows across middle America which were efforts by the visitors to earn some money from locals and provide different forms of entertainment. One such troupe that came to El Dorado was a boxing team headed up by their star boxer named “Battlin Red.” Any local who was brave enough to pay $1 and could stay in the ring with “Red” for 1 round without getting knocked down would earn $5 for his bravery. Mose was a young man in his 20’s and was nimble on his feet. He said he was able to get a few good licks on “Red,” but mostly dodged his blows long enough to earn his 5 dollars. Mose said quite a few other men that day were not so fortunate and lost their dollar to ole’ “Battlin Red.”
Brother Mose loved to sing and could even play a few songs on the guitar. When I purchased my first guitar in 1956 for $10 from “Cousin” Willie Dykes, Brother Mose showed me how to play his favorite (and only) vocal guitar piece entitled, “I Walked All the Way from East St. Louis.” His a capella vocal repertoire was more extensive. His favorite song which he constantly either sang or hummed was “Precious Lord,” and Marilyn and I quickly learned all the verses Brother Mose knew. Other songs which we remember and can still sing today included, “The Foxes Love the Low Ground, the Gooses Love the Hills;” “Let the Wind Blow Low;” “Who Been Here Since I Been Gone?”; “Poppa Didn’t Raise No Cotton and Corn”; and “There Will Be Peace in the Valley,” which was also Sister Bobbie’s favorite song. Sister Bobbie also worked for our family during those years.
A belief that Brother Mose had which neither Marilyn nor I challenged, concerned a name he thought was ascribed to God. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but he told us that he knew “another name” for God. When we asked him to explain, he said the other name was “hallow.” “How do you know that Brother Mose?” one of us asked. He said, “In the Lord’s Prayer it says, Our Father which art in heaven; hallow would ‘a been thy name.” One of us replied with smiles, “I didn’t know that!”
The only bad personal habit we saw in Brother Mose was he loved to smoke “ceegareets,” as he always pronounced them. When I acquired the taste for cigarettes at the tender age of 10 years along with a neighbor friend, John Lee Anthony; we would frequently “bum” a smoke from Brother Mose. He usually warned us not to let “Dr. Mo'” know about our little secret, because he would be in a heap o’ trouble.
Brother Mose worked for our family during the period of racial segregation in America. Nation-wide and locally there were shameful practices against Black Americans such as separate schools, separate waiting rooms in Doctor’s offices, separate drinking fountains and separate public rest rooms. Brother Mose and all Blacks Americans could not eat in our local “whites only” restaurants, nor attend movies in the 2 main theaters, the Rialto and the Majestic. The only theater in which Blacks were allowed was the Ritz Theater, and they had to sit in the balcony. Neither Brother Mose nor Sister Bobbie were allowed to eat their lunch in our breakfast room where we had the majority of our meals. I didn’t know about that restriction until I was about 6 or 7 years old, but when Marilyn and I were at home alone with them, we tried very hard to get them to join us for a meal at our table. They simply would not do it, I suppose because segregation was so ingrained in them. It makes me terribly sad to remember this, but if either one of them had any anger toward us concerning this injustice, we never knew it.
I didn’t know much about Brother Moses’ home life except he was married to Eloise. They never had children from their marriage, but helped raise several small children (a niece and a nephew) to adult-hood and considered them their own. I don’t believe they remained close to them after the children were grown. Mose and Eloise attended church at Morning Star Baptist Church, but I don’t know how regular they were in attendance.
Many times both Marilyn and I heard Brother Mose say his philosophy in life was “Live right in the sight of the Lord,” and I believe he did just that. He was kind, loving, generous, forgiving and without any guile. As I think back on the life he lived and the circumstances of life he endured, I consider him to be one of the most outstanding men I have known.
When he was in his late 60’s, he developed lung cancer, I’m sure from the many “ceegareets” he smoked over a lifetime. He received very good end of life medical care from the VA Hospital in Little Rock. I was in medical school at the time and was able to visit him on several occasions. I only wish I had prayed for him at his bedside during those visits, and told him how much I loved him. I believe he knew it, but regret I never spoke the words to him.
At his death, his funeral was held at Morning Star Baptist Church, and I took time off from medical school to drive the 100 miles from Little Rock to El Dorado to attend. Mom and I were the only Caucasians in the church, and they gave us a place of honor near the front. We were both asked if we wanted to give a testimony concerning Brother Mose, and to this day I regret we politely refused. During the service, the choir sang, “Precious Lord” and both Mom and I lost our composure. I believe we cried harder than any family members present.
I now know and understand eternal life is received as a free gift of grace from the Lord Jesus, and no amount of good works will secure it. I also believe that between the moment of our conversion of faith until we meet Him face to face, we must live obediently to His command of loving Him supremely and loving others like He loves us. I believe Brother Mose loved the Lord with all his heart, and I experienced the way he loved 2 small children who were quite different from him in color and culture. He was the first person I saw overcoming his trials and tribulations by “living right in the sight of the Lord!” (John 16:33)