Reclaiming our Past CA Pioneers of African Descent – 23rd Anniversary of Folsom Juneteenth

In 2000, Joe Louis Moore’s Juneteenth events were chosen by the National Park Service to be included in their National Underground Railroad Project, one of only two projects in California to be selected for that honor. Soon come the rest of the story…


Joe Louis Moore was born to Viola Vivian Washington Moore and Raymond Moore on November 15, 1946 in Fontana, California, the ninth of ten children. He grew up in Fontana and San Bernardino, California where he graduated from high school. After a stint in the Air Force, he attended the New York Institute of photography where he received a Certificate in Industrial Photography.

Upon completing his studies in New York, he attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California where he specialized in color photography and printing. Joe moved to Chicago where he worked for Johnson Publications as a staff photographer for Ebony and Jet magazines.

In 1970, Joe and his wife, Shirley moved to the Bay Area where in 1991 he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from The New College of San Francisco. In 1994, he received a Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Arts from San Francisco State University where he specialized in African American Arts and produced the groundbreaking art exhibit “Black Power, Black Art: The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.”

He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees while working at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory as a scientific and technical photographer until his retirement, after 27 years, in 1997.

After three decades in the Bay Area, Joe and Shirley moved to Sacramento in 1997. That same year he founded the “Reclaiming the Past: African Americans Along the American River” project.

He also served as the President of the Sacramento African American Historical and Cultural Society from 1997-2005.

From 1998-2005, he organized and directed the Juneteenth Celebrations at Negro Bar State Park in Folsom, California that focused on the history of nineteenth century African Americans in California using historical re-enactments, arts, storytelling, and exhibitions.

In 2000 Joe Louis Moore’s Juneteenth events were chosen by the National Park Service to be included in their National Underground Railroad Project, one of only two projects in California to be selected for that honor.

Joe participated as a guest speaker and served on numerous arts/humanities conferences, committees, boards, and panels including: the National Endowment for Humanities Landmark Grant Teacher Education on the Gold Rush (2014); Del Paso Boulevard Art Selection Committee for the Sacramento Arts Commission (2006-2007); “Reclaiming the Past,” California State University, Sacramento, (2003); Nevada State Council on the Humanities (1999); “Art and City Planning,” Sacramento Chamber of Commerce (1999); “Art and the Black Power Movement,” UC, Davis (1998); Oakland Neighborhood Arts Commission (1995-1996); and “Art and Technology,” San Francisco Art Institute (1994).

In 2001, Joe Louis Moore received a Library Services and Technology Act grant to develop and direct the Underground Railroad Digital Archive, an online archive of primary sources about slavery in California that is now part of the special collections of the library at California State University, Sacramento.

In 2003, he produced a symposium – “From Slavery to Freedom: Preserving Nineteenth Century Documents for the Twenty-First Century” at California State University, Sacramento.

He also developed and curated several photographic exhibitions including “This Light, This Air: Dorothea Lange’s FSA Photographs of the Central Valley” (2008-2009); “The Legacy of the Panthers,” photo exhibition and catalogue (1997); and “Black Power, Black Art: The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s.” His publications include articles and photo essays in California History Magazine, several National Park Service publications, and Black World Magazine.

In 2004, Joe Louis Moore received Sacramento County Historical Society’s Education Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions to regional and local history. In 2010 he developed and served as director of the Black Overland Trails Wagon Project.

With the support of an array of community organizations, the State Parks Foundation, the Center for California Studies, and the Sacramento History Center, he assembled a team that reconstructed a replica of an overland wagon based on the covered wagons constructed by nineteenth-century master wagon builder and former slave Hiram Young of Independence, Missouri. The wagon and historical information about the black men and women who undertook the overland journey to the West is now permanently on exhibit at the Marshall Gold Fields State Park in Coloma, California and is used year-round as an educational resource for thousands of students and other visitors to the park.

At the time of his death, Joe had developed and was directing the Sitka Project, a recreation of California’s first steamboat, the Sitka, a bold business venture of black pioneer William Alexander Leidesdorff in 1847.

The project will continue and when completed the Sitka will be docked in Old Sacramento as a teaching resource for educators, students, and visitors who will learn about African Americans in early Sacramento, the delta waterways, and the ethnic diversity of the region.

After a long and courageous battle, Joe Louis Moore succumbed to cancer on April 20, 2015.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years Dr. Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, professor of history (emerita) at California State University, Sacramento; brothers Raymond Moore, Jr., B.T. Moore, and Manuel Moore; sisters Joyce “Tiny” Watson, Darlene Duncan, Jeannie Moore, and a host of nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.

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