Walthall Moore Sr. was born on May 1, 1886, in Marion, Alabama, the son of John and Sarah Moore. His family moved to St. Louis later that same year. He was educated in the city’s segregated elementary and secondary schools. Following his secondary education, he enrolled in Howard University in Washington, DC.
Upon completion of his education at Howard University, Moore returned to Missouri and helped incorporate Missouri’s first African American–owned steam laundry. He also worked as a clerk in the St. Louis post office and, later, in the Railway Mail Service. He became active in politics during the late teens, and he ran for the state legislature as a Republican in 1920. He was elected to represent the Sixth District of Missouri (a part of the city of St. Louis). Thus, in 1921, Moore became the first African American in Missouri history to serve in the General Assembly, though a previous candidate, William M. Riley, also a Republican from St. Louis, had his apparent election to the legislature overturned in a vote recount in 1918.
Moore’s greatest contribution to his state came in the form of a bill he introduced to upgrade Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City to a state university. Up to this point, Lincoln had served the state’s Black population primarily as a normal and vocational training school. Although the bill designating Lincoln as the state university for Missouri’s African American population passed, Moore’s request for a $1 million appropriation for the school was rejected.
Moore failed in his bid for reelection in 1922, but won election in 1924 to represent St. Louis’s Third District. He served in the legislature from 1925 through 1930, completing four terms as a state representative. During his tenure he served on the following committees: Workmen’s Compensation, Municipal Corporations, and Appropriations. He became one of Missouri’s delegates-at-large to the 1928 Republican National Convention.
Moore also became a symbol of social progress. Along with his political standing, he held great popularity as a public figure, and his speaking engagements spanned the state. His eloquence and sincerity won over both Black and white audiences. He was fond of voicing his dedication to not only Black causes but also the traditional obligations of his office.
Moore died in St. Louis on April 8, 1960. He is buried in Oakdale Cemetery in St. Louis. His wife, F. A. Ferguson of Marion, Indiana, preceded him in death. Moore was survived by a son, Walthall Moore Jr.
Official Manual of the State of Missouri, 1929–1930. Jefferson City, MO: Secretary of State, 1930.
St. Louis Argus, April 15, 1960.
St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 14, 1958.
Wicentowski, Danny. “The Erasure of Missouri’s First Elected Black Legislator.” Riverfront Times, January 26, 2022.
Published October 26, 2023
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