Madera board gets lesson in black history

June 13, 2020

For The Madera Tribune

Shown here is a piece that was clearly once part of Gabriel Bibbard Moore's tombstone. Dixieland students plan to restore it to its rightful place.

Students read dead man’s “diary”

 

While the fires of discontent are now spreading across the land, literally, 15 eighth graders from Dixieland School are attempting to draw attention to the injustice of racism in a different way, literally. They are picking up the pieces of the life of Gabriel Bibbard Moore, a black pioneer, and turning them into a story. 

 

Two of the students, Sean Fitzgerald and Yarettsi Flores, along with their teacher, Angela Lindsay, appeared before the Madera Unified School Board on Tuesday to bring them up to date on a project they have refused to let go in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

They are putting Mr. Moore back together again.

 

Uncle Gabe, as some called him, was born a slave in Alabama in 1812. Somehow by 1850, he wound up in Arkansas, the property of Margaret Glenn. In 1853, Mrs. Glenn’s sons, Richard and William Glenn joined the Akers wagon train and came to California, bringing Gabe with them. When that wagon train crossed into California, Gabe became a free man, and his former owners showed him how to file a homestead and begin to farm.

 

Within three years, Gabe was farming 114 acres of government land, had built a little cabin, and owned some farm animals and implements worth almost $500. By 1860, he had built a barn, put up a brush fence, and increased his farm animals to include two Spanish horses, five Spanish mares two Spanish mules, 40 mixed stock cattle, and 20 hogs.  

 

Although Gabe became more productive and prosperous each year, in 1871, he felt the burden of being a black man, even in California. On January 4 of that year, the County Clerk of Fresno County, Harry Dixon, refused to register Gabe to vote because of his color. 

 

Gabe left the courthouse that day and rode back home. He continued to increase his holdings, and by 1880, he was worth $15,000, a significant sum in those days.

 

Then came that day when Gabe decided to move his cattle across the river. It was May 25, 1880, and the water was running swift and high. Gabe was swept from his horse and drowned. They buried him in the Aker’s Cemetery, not far from his cabin and had a tombstone placed over his grave. Then, they left him to rest in peace, but it was not to be. 

 

Decade followed decade, until in the 1960s, African-Americans were challenging racial segregation and discrimination. In 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, and the next year it passed the Voting Rights Act. Anger cropped up across the nation, including Centerville, California. In the summer of 1965, someone took a sledgehammer to Gabe’s grave, knocked off a huge chunk and left Gabe’s grave basically unmarked — his tombstone no longer told who was buried there. Gabe had been maligned as much in death as he had been in life. 

 

Then a strange thing happened. A local history buff, through a series of fortuitous discoveries, came across the documents that told Gabe’s story. He also found a chunk from his broken tombstone. He turned his discovery over to Lindsay. She in turn engaged 15 of her students in a project — to resurrect Gabe Moore — to take the pieces of his life and tell his story. 

 

Her students took up the challenge and wrote Gabe’s “autobiography.” The young historians assumed Gabe Moore’s identity and wrote his diary for him, with each entry based on solid facts from the primary source documents. 

 

With their writing complete, they will now get it published and then move on to the final part of the Gabe Moore project. They want to take that chunk of concrete — the one that was knocked off the desecrated tombstone — and put it back. They want to restore dignity to Gabe Moore’s tombstone. 

So, with a copy of their manuscript in hand, they want to assemble at Gabe’s grave and read his story. Then they want to put the broken piece back — that piece that had been lying in a nearby field for 55 years.

 

According to this crop of Madera Method scholars, even dead people matter.

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