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Photographed on December 11, 1956
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Before beginning a career as a community activist, fund-raiser, and civil rights advocate, Mississippi native Mollie Moon trained as a pharmacist at Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. She also studied at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Berlin. Moon worked only briefly as a pharmacist, and later, as an educator and social worker. Her true life’s work was the Urban League Guild, the organization she founded and served as president for nearly fifty years.

Moon described the Guild’s beginnings in a 1956 pamphlet:

  In June of 1942, a small, interracial group of young people met and formed an organization called the National Urban League Guild. This group drew on a broad program of educational, cultural, and social activities which it felt, if put into operation, would do much to improve race relations; and it agreed to work on behalf of the National Urban League.1

Through her efforts with the Urban League Guild and the Urban League, Mollie Moon worked to improve race relations in New York City and in the United States at large. Moon was an innovative fundraiser whose creative ideas and projects helped to support the Urban League and to raise public awareness about its programs.

The most popular and visible of the Guild’s activities was the annual Beaux-Arts Ball. The ball, an extravagant party based on a different theme every year, was first held in Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. It moved downtown to the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center in 1948 amidst some controversy. League board member Winthrop Rockefeller co-signed the invitations with Mollie Moon that year. “Nobody was going to buck the landlord,” Moon said, “that’s how we broke the color barrier.”2

The ball was eventually moved to the Waldorf-Astoria, where some of the most memorable balls were held. The twenty-fifth annual ball, in 1965, took “Freedom Around the World” as its theme and the sponsoring committee included representatives from the United Nations and the United States House of Representatives. Diana Sands and other popular performers served as judges for a costume contest at this event. A few years later, a “Golden Age” ball included performances by many jazz greats:

  The golden age of jazz was brought back for one fleeting evening at the 33rd annual Beaux Arts Ball Friday night when Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa, Illinois Jacque and Tyree Glenn got together for an unscheduled jam session in the sedate Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.3

Those in attendance were surprised by the impromptu show, “some danced, some clapped, and some among the 2000 guests stood amazed.”4

In 1990, Moon received a President’s Volunteer Action Award from President George Bush; New York Mayor David Dinkins presided at the award ceremony. Moon’s groundbreaking work with the Urban League Guild in the areas of development and volunteerism earned her the respect of the nonprofit and advocacy communities. Her commitment to civil rights and equality, always at the root of her fundraising work, lead her to serve for many years as the secretary of the Urban League Board of Directors, even as she headed up the Guild’s work.

The Urban League Guild began as a small, local organization in New York City; under Moon’s leadership, the organization grew to include almost 30,000 volunteers working with local and regional Guild chapters. The fundraising and support of the Guild have enabled the continued success of Urban League programs nationwide.



1 Mollie Moon “To You—Our Guests” Disneyland: The National Urban League Guild’s 16th Annual Beaux Arts Ball New York, 1956 p. 6
2 Quoted in “Mollie Moon, 82, Founding Head of the Urban League Guild, Dies” New York Times 26 June 1990
3 “Jazz Greats Jam to Laud Hampton” New York Times 18 Feb. 1973
4 “Jazz Greats”

 

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