Brother Mose Graham was hired by my Pop to maintain the large yard and grounds at our home, and he faithfully worked for us for about fifteen years. He was a fun loving, kind and gentle man whose philosophy of life still impacts me today. His tenure with us was prior to the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, but we treated him as family as much as the culture of the day would allow.
I knew Brother Mose better than anyone in our family and probably better than most of his friends. The simple reason is because I spent so much time with him listening to his stories, his songs, watching him dance little jigs and learning his philosophy of life. After my sister Marilyn married George Berry in 1957, George got to know Brother Mose like all of the family, and for years we loved recounting our remembrances of him.
One of the stories I often heard from Brother Mose concerned his experience of a boxing match he had with the star of a travelling boxing troupe. During the depression years of the 1930’s up to World War II there were frequent travelling shows all across middle America. These shows provided various forms of entertainment to locals who couldn’t afford the expense of travel to the larger cities. One such troupe which came to El Dorado was a boxing team featuring their star boxer named “Battlin’ Red.” Any local who was brave enough to pay one dollar and stay in the ring with Red for at least one round without getting knocked down would earn five dollars. Mose was a young man then in his twenties 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 five dollars. Mose said there were other men 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 ten dollars 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 acapella repertoire was more extensive, and his favorite song which he constantly sang or hummed was Precious Lord. Other songs which we remember and can still sing today include 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. Marilyn and I heard those songs so often we can sing them today.
A belief which 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 he knew “another name” for God. When asked 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, “We didn’t know that!”
The only bad habit we saw in Brother Mose was he loved to smoke “ceegareets,” as he pronounced them. When I acquired the taste for cigarettes at the tender age of ten years along with a neighborhood friend, John Lee Anthony we would frequently “bum” a smoke from Brother Mose. He made us promise to not let “Dr. Mo'” know about our little secret, because it would get him in a heap o’ trouble.
Brother Mose worked for our family during the years of racial segregation. Nation-wide and locally there was complete separation of the races to the shame of our nation. Neither Brother Mose nor Sister Bobbie, who also worked for us were allowed to eat their meals in our dining room. I didn’t know about the restriction until I was about six or seven years old, but when Marilyn and I were at home alone with them we tried to get them to join us for a meal at our table. They simply would not do it, because segregation was so ingrained in them. If either 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 together, but helped raise two small children to adult-hood and considered them their own. I don’t think they remained very 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 of life was “Live right in the sight of the Lord,” and I believe he did. He was kind, loving, generous, forgiving and without any guile. As I think back on his life and the circumstances he endured, I consider him to be one of the most outstanding men I have known.
When he was in his late sixties in age, he developed lung cancer from the many “ceegareets” he smoked over a lifetime. He received very good end of life medical care at 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 with him at his bedside during those visits, and told him how much I loved him. I know he knew it, but regret it just the same
At his death his funeral was held at Morning Star Baptist Church, and I took time off from medical school to drive the one hundred 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 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 broke down and cried harder than any family member present.
I believe 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 between the moment of our conversion until we meet Him face to face, we must live obedient to His command to love Him supremely and love others like He loves us. I am confident Brother Mose loved the Lord with all his heart, and experienced the way he loved two small children who were quite different in color and culture. He was the first person I saw who overcame his trials and tribulations by “living right in the sight of the Lord!” (John 16:33)
What a wonderful story of Brother Mose and your family (plus John Lee). I noticed you called your family’s black help Brother and Sister. I remember in Belle Chasse as an elementary school kid our friends from Mississippi called adults by their first name but add Mister or Miss in front. Mother was Miss Nancy to them. Just curious… was the Brother and Sister title a way to still honor your elders while somehow maintaining the separation of the races? To give an idea of how those racial lines have faded, I remember a scene from my great uncle OB’s funeral in ’89. Although he used to own the bank and the Chevy dealership in Strong plus thousands of acres of timber, the only ones on the pew next to his widow Clothielde were the black hired help- Adel (his everything man), Adel’s wife and on the other side, Wilma the cook. By the way, I know Adel got an inheritance and I did not. It shows how much OB loved him. Those lines between the race may never be fully erased but I see them getting more dim by the decade. And that’s a good thing.
You are right about the showing of respect for elders in the culture of those days. We would always address an adult as Mr., Mrs. or Miss and use their last name. I don’t recall a Caucasian ever addressing a Black American in those days with a Mr. or Mrs. In showing respect they would be addressed as either Brother or Sister. I still love to hear young people today using respectful prefixes when speaking to elders, and answering questions with a Yes sir or No M’am. Our grandchildren are being taught that courtesy by their parents and I love it!
Merry Christmas Todd from Cathy and me.