Snow covered Denton’s roofs and trees on Jan. 1, 1875, when Janie Goodall went into labor. She was alone because the baby’s Native American father left months earlier. Dr. Louisa Owsley, Denton’s first female homeopathic doctor, attended Janie’s labor and helped name the baby after American civil rights reformer Frederick Douglass.
Denton was a frontier town. Lanterns hung at crossings, illuminating streets because electricity didn’t exist. Janie took Fred to her job with the Owsley family. They didn’t pay much, but they made a cradle for Fred and provided food and clothing for him.
Fred was a year old when Henry Lucien Moore met Janie, married her and adopted Fred. They moved to a log cabin near the downtown Square. Henry worked at the Davenport Mill, until it burned, and at a brick plant. He was the first janitor for the North Texas Normal College, now the University of North Texas, when it opened in 1890.
Henry was born into slavery. He came to Texas as a servant of Sam Bass, and he was present when Texas Rangers fatally wounded Bass in Round Rock. Henry told Janie about his association with the outlaw, but he never told Fred.
The Moores’ one-room log cabin had two windows and two high beds with straw-filled mattresses. Janie kept the cabin spotlessly clean, scrubbing wood plank floors with lye water. The yard, like most at the time, was a clean dirt yard made by scraping grass away with a hoe and sweeping it regularly to keep it free of vegetation. The family kept ducks, geese, chickens, a hog and a cow. Pears, plums, peaches, persimmons and pecans grew behind the house. Grapes grew on a fence. The family discussed the Bible at meals.
Fred attended the Frederick Douglass School, Denton’s only black school. According to Fred Moore: Narration in the First Person by Sadie Moore, Fred read well enough to be elected Sunday school secretary of the Mount Pilgrim Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at age 10 and superintendent when he was 19. He taught Janie, who was born into slavery, to read.
Fred’s schooling ended after ninth grade so he could support his family. His first job at a bank earned respect for his integrity. He opened barbershops in Quakertown and on the north side of Denton’s Square. Fred played many musical instruments, and he became known as the “Professor” because his 14-piece band played all over the country for black and white audiences. In 1901, Fred was elected founding president of Denton’s Epworth League, an interracial Methodist youth organization that produced many Methodist leaders.
Fred met his wife Sarah “Sadie” Brotherton, when his band played for Lewisville’s Juneteenth celebration. Sadie was a talented seamstress who could sew anything from a picture. Their March 7, 1901, marriage produced seven children. Four daughters — Lela, Alice, Hazel and Daisy — survived to adulthood.
Sadie convinced Fred to become an educator. He hated the idea, but he began a 40-year education career after passing the teacher certification exam. Fred became Denton’s Fred Douglass School principal in 1915. He also taught Latin, mathematics and adult education classes and conducted a large vocal chorus that performed throughout Denton.
Fred’s rules of conduct guided generations:
- Exercise self-control — control tongues, thoughts, temper and actions.
- Never ridicule or defile the character of another.
- Keep your self-respect and help others to keep theirs.
- Be kind in thought and speech — never despise anyone, gossip or speak unkindly of others.
- Be self-reliant — listen to wiser and older people.
- Develop independence and wisdom.
- Act according to what seems right and fair.
- Never fear being laughed at for doing what is right.
- Be brave. A coward does not make a good citizen.
- Always play fair. Never cheat.
- Always treat your opponents with courtesy.
Fred continued summer school studies on student loans, completing his bachelor’s degree at Prairie View Normal and Industrial College in 1921. He did graduate work at Fisk and Columbia University.
According to daughter Alice Alexander, Fred dressed meticulously, spoke precisely and was seldom seen in shirt sleeves. His 10 to 15 pairs of eternally polished shoes were bought from multiple Denton merchants because he knew they paid school taxes.
Fred was invited to lecture on the importance of education for African Americans at both the North Texas State Teachers College, now UNT, and the Texas State College for Women, now Texas Woman’s University.
Fred became a leader in Denton’s black community, raising money for parks, a recreation center, public cemeteries and to finally pave south Denton roads. He helped start Denton’s first black Boy Scout troop, led fundraising drives in World War I and II and briefly administered a Denton satellite campus of Texas State University for Negroes, now Texas Southern University.
Fred Moore Park was named in his honor in 1948, and Fred Moore High School, built in 1949, was named for him. That year, Applause magazine selected him “Man of the Year.”
Fred died on Sept. 28, 1953, at age 78 after multiple surgeries for an unnamed condition. He’s buried in Denton’s Oakwood Cemetery.
Sadie considered Fred a normal person with a quick mind and a quick temper. He was a deep thinker, and a hard worker who understood that his position enabled him to lobby city leaders within the confines of Jim Crow laws.
Philanthropists established and named the Fred Moore Nursery School in his honor in 1955. His daughter, Hazel Young, ran it for several years before taking teaching positions in Gainesville and Denton. Daughter Alice Alexander taught in Denton public schools for 40 years. In 2017 the Denton school board renamed a local elementary school in her honor.
Fred Moore believed education was critical to Denton’s black community. He spent 40 years acting on that belief.