Harold G. Moss
Doctor of Laws
Civic leader, civil rights activist, selfless citizen, you are the architect of equality for the city of Tacoma. A son of Texas and a child of Detroit, you came to this city when your service in the United States Army stationed you at Fort Lewis. Here in the beautiful Northwest, you encountered once again the familiar face of discrimination you had met before in the rural South and the urban Midwest. You were disappointed but not discouraged, and did not turn away. When the army discharged you, you remained in Tacoma to discharge your duty; and Tacoma would not remain the same.
From your father you learned the dignity of self-reliance and the importance of marrying fairness with fierce determination. From the 1940s riots in Detroit and the 1960s marches in Montgomery, you learned that justice would not come without struggle. From Dr. King you learned that freedom demands a price. You were prepared to pay that price. An earnest activist from the 1950s until this day, you made the journey from angry agitator to consummate legislator. With the young civil rights lawyer Jack Tanner, in restaurants and courtrooms, you integrated Tacoma's neighborhoods and its public facilities. You served two terms as president of the Tacoma branch of the NAACP, joined the first Tacoma Human Rights Commission, and in 1968 helped form the Tacoma Urban League. While serving others, you learned a trade that served them, too, owning and operating a successful commercial dental lab and clinic.
Community work led you to political leadership, and in 1968 you ran for a seat on the Tacoma City Council. You lost that race; but again, you were not discouraged. When five elected members were recalled, you were appointed to one of the vacated seats, the first African American city councilman in Tacoma's history. You served the council with distinction for five years and were later twice re-elected at the polls.
In 1994, with the death of your mentor Mayor Jack Hyde, you were selected by your council peers to serve as the city's mayor, again the first and, until today, the only African American to do so. You would also serve on the Pierce County Council for thirteen years, three times elected chair by unanimous vote of your peers: another precedent broken. In your final year of service, the visionary transportation plan you led for the county, Destination 2030, was named the nation's best. But you had not yet reached your destination.
You have said that you wished to be remembered as a fair guy who treated everyone equally and who wasn't afraid to love folks. You have done so. And you will be so remembered, and have been loved in return: loved, but also admired. Your life of moral courage shall stand for Tacomans as a living embodiment of the history of civil rights in our city and a monument to good citizenship and grace.
President Thomas, Harold Moss stands before us as a courageous leader of our community, and champion of justice on recommendation of the faculty of the University of Puget Sound, a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Presented May 17, 2009, by Kim R. Bobby, Associate Professor of Education