Baltimore, Maryland

Painting the Statues Black: Ralph and Dana Moore

First Recorded

April 30, 2016


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When he attended Loyola High School in 1952, Ralph Moore noticed that all of the images in his church were white. Late one night, he snuck into the church and painted the statues of Jesus and Mary black, a "parting shot" on his way out of Catholicism. In this conversation, Ralph discusses his experience grappling with racism in the Catholic Church with his wife, Dana.

This story was produced by StoryCorps.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity‚Äôs stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. 

Painting the Statues Black: Ralph and Dana Moore

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Ralph Moore: I was struck by how the schoolyard was off the back door of the convent. And it was very common to see a long line of men at the back door of the convent coming to get a sandwich and a cup of soup from the sisters. That became a part of my consciousness more than I realized.

Dana Moore: You've always worked with the poorest of the poor. Do you think that sort of personal mission started back as early as elementary school?

Ralph Moore: Elementary, middle school maybe, I think those were seeds that were planted.

Dana Moore: When we first met, one of the reasons that I liked you and wanted to keep seeing you was I thought that you and I were similar in our religious thought and beliefs. But recently I asked you if you consider yourself religious and you said no, and that struck me as a little different than the way I'd always thought of you. Could you explain it to me?

Ralph Moore: I don't consider myself religious. And it's interesting because when I met you, I wasn't going to church. When I left back in the 70s or so, we were just coming to grips with the fact that the institution of the Catholic Church had racist tendencies. I'm sitting in church and I said, "Why are all the images here white?" I said, "We need to fix that." And I'm 19 years old. A few days later, I got together three of my friends and the four of us went into Saint Pius Church in West Baltimore and we painted the statues black. We painted the statue of Jesus black. We painted Jesus' figure on the Stations of the Cross black and his mother, Mary, figure black, and all the Roman soldiers tugging on his clothes and doing the abusive things to him were all white. And we made a statement about black liberation. And that was one of my sort of parting shots.

Dana Moore: What was the reaction?

Ralph Moore: On Sunday during mass, it was kind of quiet. But after mass, I went out the door of the church to the sidewalk and somebody walked up to me and said, "Did you have anything to do with this?" And before I could answer, it felt like 300 people were standing there screaming and hollering at me. There were elderly people swinging at me and trying to get me to fight them.

Dana Moore: Oh, my goodness.

Ralph Moore: And there was somebody who said to me, "Well, black is the color of the devil. Why did you do this?"

Dana Moore: Oh, gosh.

Ralph Moore: And I said, "Ma'am that color is the same color as you." And I tried to reason with them, but they were not to be reasoned with. And then I stopped going to church altogether for a while. And when I met you, you were going to church. You were a member of the cathedral.

Dana Moore: The basilica.

Ralph Moore: The basilica downtown.

Dana Moore: Right.

Ralph Moore: And ironically, you're the one who brought me back to the Catholic Church.

Dana Moore: Oh my.

Ralph Moore: So it all comes together. What I heard from the Oblate Sisters, and what I heard from the Jesuits, and what I might have heard in college, working with the chaplain, there was consistent with what I was hearing at home, the value's there, you got to work hard, you got to have integrity, you got to be kind to others and share what you have. Because I can remember seeing strangers come to the door at my parents' home and they acted almost obligated to go and find a couple of slices of bread and some meat or some jelly to give somebody that came to the door. And that wasn't preached about, that was just done.

Dana Moore: It was just done. It just is.

Ralph Moore: Just done. Yeah.

Dana Moore: It just is.

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