Profile: Alonzo G. Moron (1909–1971)

Alonzo Graseano Moron was the first black president of Hampton University, influencing the civil rights movement as he worked to upgrade Hampton Institute from a trade school to a college. He proved that a school for African Americans could be successful with a black man in charge. Moron’s influence was significant in many fields. An outstanding scholar, effective administrator, and advocator for civil rights, he held many groundbreaking posts, all with distinction.

Moron was born in the Virgin Islands on April 12, 1909 to Caroline Louisa Brown and Joseph Metjunto Moron. His parents were both native to the Virgin Islands, which were a Danish possession at the time. His mother was a seamstress and his father was a Jew who had migrated to the Caribbean Islands from Spain. As a young man, Moron’s scholarship was so exceptional that a group of supporters raised money to send him to Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Although circumstances prevented most of the money from reaching him, he was determined to attend Hampton Institute, and he enrolled in September 1923. In Norfolk, Virginia, Moron experienced the segregated South firsthand. Attempting to buy food at a restaurant near the base he was told it was for whites only.

At fourteen, he was alone and practically destitute when he enrolled at Hampton. To support himself he worked odd jobs at homes near the yacht club in downtown Hampton. At the time Moron attended Hampton Institute (1923–27), the school offered high school level training in the trades. In 1927, Moron received a degree in upholstering, which was the highest level of education available at Hampton Institute at the time. After graduation, he accompanied the well-known Hampton Quartette on tour as spokesman and promoter for the group.

Moron entered Brown University in 1928 to study sociology. At Brown, he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha Fra-ternity, the Liberal and Spanish Clubs, and he played tennis. He was a cum laude Phi Beta Kappa graduate in 1932. That same year he married Leola Rowena Churchill, whose family lived in the Hampton area. After marriage, Moron continued to the University of Pittsburgh on a scholarship from the Urban League, earning a master’s degree in 1933.

After earning his M.A., Moron was selected as the first black man to serve in the Emergency Relief Commission of Baltimore. In 1933, Moron was selected commissioner of public welfare for the Virgin Islands at the crucial time when the Federal Emergency Relief Program was initiated. He developed welfare in this country where three-fourths of the population was unemployed or underemployed.

Moron left the Virgin Islands in 1936 to work at Atlanta University. He was soon offered a position at the Federal Public Works Administration, where for four years he managed a 675—unit housing project for African Americans. During this time, he also taught courses and lectured in sociology.

Moron entered Harvard Law School in 1944 as a Rosenwald Fellow and was awarded his law degree in 1947. At Harvard, Moron served as an advisor to the board of trustees at Hampton University, and upon receiving his law degree he joined Hampton Institute as general business manager.

First Black President of Hampton Institute

Moron displayed considerable administrative abilities during his first years at Hampton Institute. When the board of Hampton needed to appoint a new president, Moron was nominated. On April 29, 1949, the board announced the appointment of Moron as the first black president of this historically black university. This event was extremely significant to the African American community in Virginia. Local African American newspapers such as the Norfolk Journal and Guide wrote glowing editorials predicting a new age for African Americans. Moron’s efficiency and astuteness helped the school attract benefactors. His exceptional writing style helped persuade potential contributors.

Moron’s official documents as president of Hampton Institute reflect his resolve to maintain an interracial faculty at Hampton and to resist the repressive social climate of that time. He abandoned the practice of requiring faculty to swear an oath of loyalty, which he felt was too authoritarian. Moron achieved fiscal security for Hampton Institute. He was conservative politically, but believed in civil rights.

Moron believed in political action to advance civil rights. With the backing of the NAACP and Hampton Institute he opposed a movement among white Virginia legislators to support private schools at taxpayer expense. The measure passed the legislature, but Moron raised an awareness of the power of black political organizations. However, Moron had some difficulties at Hampton Institute with the Board of Trustees and the students. Moron displayed impatience and imperiousness that made him unpopular with some people, but these characteristics also gave him the drive and determination for change. He felt the Board of Trustees were not supportive of his fundraising activities and that they bypassed proper channels in dealing with faculty and student grievances. He resigned as president of Hampton Institute in 1959.

Returns to the Virgin Islands

In 1959, Moron returned to his native Virgin Islands to serve as acting commissioner of education. There he was named deputy regional administrator for an entire region that included the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and advised the governor on assistance grants and legislation to help the Virgin Islands gain federal assistance.

Moron was active in many organizations, including the Urban League Board of Trustees, NAACP, Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Phi Alpha, Sigma Pi Phi, and the Rotary Club. He served as consultant to the Fund for the Advancement of Education, the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the U.S. Department of State, and others. Moron was an administrator, scholar, lecturer, author of numerous journal articles, and a dynamic force in the civil rights movement. He and his wife Leola retired to Puerto Rico where they lived for many years. Moron died in Puerto Rico on October 1, 1971.

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