Douglas Moore, Methodist Minister Who Organized Royal Ice Cream Sit-in and Was Known for Radical Civil Rights Activism, Dies at 91

Rev. Moore and his wife Dr. Hughes, Howard University professor.

Douglas E. Moore, a Methodist minister who in 1957 led one of the first sit-ins to protest racial segregation in the South and later served a tumultuous stint on the D.C. Council in the 1970s, died Aug. 22 at a hospital in Clinton, Md. He was 91.

The cause was Alzheimer’s disease and pneumonia, said his wife, Doris Hughes-Moore.

Rev. Moore settled in Washington in 1966 and gained prominence in the city as an acolyte and self-described “personal pastor” of black-power leader Stokely Carmichael. In 1974, he won a D.C. Council seat, but his reputation as a volatile provocateur, along with an incident in which he bit a tow-truck driver, led to his loss of a committee chairmanship and a stay in jail. He never again held elective office, although he continued seeking it, most recently with a mayoral run in 2002.

He first drew attention as a 28-year-old clergyman in Durham, N.C., where he brought a confrontational approach to the nascent civil rights struggle. He drank from “whites-only” public water fountains, then would exclaim, “Good white water!”

He said activists such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who had been a classmate at the Boston University School of Theology, relied too much at the time on the power of oratory, instead of action, to achieve racial equality.

“I was more educated than most of the whites that segregated against us,” Rev. Moore once told the Washington Informer, a local publication that covers the African American community. “I was just tired of riding on the back of transportations, walking through ‘colored’ entrances, sipping out of different water fountains and [being] made to feel by other black folk that it was okay.”

On Sunday, June 23, 1957, he led a group of activists into the racially segregated Royal Ice Cream parlor — a white-owned business in the heart of Durham’s black community. It was around 6:30 p.m. when he and his contingent entered through a whites-only door before taking whites-only seats.

Over the next 15 minutes, their food orders were refused, and a manager asked them to leave. One protester exited when eight police officers arrived — one for each activist — and the remaining “Royal Seven,” as they became known, were escorted to jail.

All seven were convicted by an all-white jury and fined $10, plus court costs, for trespassing. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal.

Sit-in protests were not yet a mainstream part of the civil rights struggle, and the Royal Seven garnered little attention beyond the local and black press. An alliance of black clergymen in Durham criticized Rev. Moore, calling his sit-in “radical.”

“We selected Royal Ice Cream because it was surrounded by black people,” he told the Durham Herald-Sun decades later. “We thought we’d get support. No way. We got the wrath of the community.”