Interview with Thomas Moore
An interview conducted by the African American Community Cultural and Educational Society (AACCES) as part of an oral history project documenting the lives of African Americans in the Tri-Cities during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Vanessa Moore: My name is Vanessa Moore. I’m a member of the Triple-A-S History and Recognition Committee, and I’m here this afternoon with Mr. Thomas Moore to speak with him a little bit about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and working out at the Hanford Site. How are you doing, Tommy?
Thomas Moore: Fine.
Vanessa Moore: Good. Just have a few questions we’d like to ask you. First of all, when did you come to this area, when did you arrive in the Tri-Cities?
Thomas Moore: Some part of ’39.
Vanessa Moore: That’s very early.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, I don’t remember just what month. That was a long time ago, you know.
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hm. Did you come alone, or did someone come out with you?
Thomas Moore: No, one fella come with me.
Vanessa Moore: Okay, could I get his name?
Thomas Moore: Golly, I don’t remember.
Vanessa Moore: It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? About how old were you at that time?
Thomas Moore: 19.
Vanessa Moore: 19 years old. Where’d you live before coming here?
Thomas Moore: Corpus Christi—I mean, Alice, Texas.
Vanessa Moore: Alice, Texas, is that where you’re originally from? Why did you decide to come? How’d you hear about it?
Thomas Moore: Well, this friend of mine did. He was a cook. And he told me about the job, that they was paying a dollar an hour for cooks in Washington.
Vanessa Moore: How’d that compare to where you lived?
Thomas Moore: $17 a week, 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Vanessa Moore: Wow. So it looked pretty good, sounded pretty good.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, sounded okay, yeah.
Vanessa Moore: So you and he came together?
Thomas Moore: Mm-hmm, yes.
Vanessa Moore: Okay. Did you come and do that type of work?
Thomas Moore: No.
Vanessa Moore: Once you got here?
Thomas Moore: No, we didn’t.
Vanessa Moore: Let me back up just a little bit. How did you travel to the Tri-Cities or to Hanford at that time?
Thomas Moore: To Hanford, we come on the bus. But—
Vanessa Moore: From Alice?
Thomas Moore: No, from Alice we come on the freight.
Vanessa Moore: Oh, on the freight train.
Thomas Moore: Yeah.
Vanessa Moore: Okay.
Thomas Moore: And what made it so bad was that he smoked and we were both hungry. But he had double troubles. He wanted a cigarette and then he wanted food, too. I just was hungry. He—
Vanessa Moore: It was a long ride, it sounds like. [LAUGHTER]
Thomas Moore: Yeah.
Vanessa Moore: Now, once you arrived here, where was the first place you stayed? Were there relatives, or--?
Thomas Moore: No, we didn’t have no relatives, no relatives here. No, we got off the freight in Pasco at that old depot down there. We didn’t stay here long. We just stayed—we just was hoboing.
Vanessa Moore: Oh, okay.
Thomas Moore: No place to live or nothing. You got out of there the first—fast as we could and we went over there to Seattle. Went over to Seattle and got a room at the Jackson Hotel.
Vanessa Moore: Okay, so this was in 1939, and this was sort of just a stopover, and you kept on going.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, I was on my way. To Seattle.
Vanessa Moore: So, really you were headed for Seattle when you left Texas. Okay, I understand. But at some point, rather, though, you ended up back in this area.
Thomas Moore: In 1949—in December, that I can remember good. In December, 1949, I come to look at a restaurant, cocktail lounge and everything that I purchased. The Poulet Palace.
Vanessa Moore: The Poulet Palace?
Thomas Moore: That was the name of it.
Vanessa Moore: Okay, where was that located?
Thomas Moore: On Lewis Street.
Vanessa Moore: So in Pasco, here. And you had mentioned to me prior to the interview that you did some work—you did do some work out at Hanford with regards to surveying. Can you tell me about that?
Thomas Moore: Oh, yes, we was working with—my job was I drove a jeep, and we had concrete on a sled. When they surveyors would put a stake down, I’d have to come along and take it back and dig it up and put a little concrete in there and put the stake back. Because when the wind blows so bad, the stake would blow all the way around. It was a little hard to blow that little wad of concrete that I had put the stake in.
Vanessa Moore: I see. Tommy, when you were working on the railroad with the surveyors, about what year was that?
Thomas Moore: That, I don’t exactly remember, but I’m thinking it was in ’42 or a little later. Could’ve been a little later, but that was at the Hanford Site. E.I. DuPont.
Vanessa Moore: E.I. DuPont, okay.
Thomas Moore: That was the name of it.
Vanessa Moore: That’s right.
Thomas Moore: We all knew that he made shotgun shells, but we didn’t know—nobody knew he was making an atomic bomb.
Vanessa Moore: Wow, they didn’t tell you too much about that, did they?
Thomas Moore: No.
Vanessa Moore: So how did you feel about working at Hanford? Were there big crews? A lot of other blacks, or just a few?
Thomas Moore: It was quite a few. Mm-hmm. We had—don’t remember too well, but if I’m not mistaken, we had our own mess hall when we finally got a mess hall. But before that, we was eating at a basement in the little town of Hanford.
Vanessa Moore: The town of Hanford. So there was--
Thomas Moore: Yeah. Eating down in the basement.
Vanessa Moore: So eventually, then, there was a separate mess hall from the blacks, separate ones for--
Thomas Moore: Yeah, I’m thinkin’.
Vanessa Moore: I’ve heard that.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, I don’t know for sure.
Vanessa Moore: Now, on the job, do you feel you were treated all right? Can you tell us about that?
Thomas Moore: Oh, everything went fine. Everything went okay.
Vanessa Moore: I have to ask you this, what was the hardest thing to adjust to when you first started out here? Obviously, you came from a different state, you came from doing a different type of work. What was the hardest adjustment for you?
Thomas Moore: There was no hard adjustment. We just went along with the flow.
Vanessa Moore: Just go with the flow, everything worked out all right?
Thomas Moore: Mm-hmm.
Vanessa Moore: Okay. Separate from work, what did you and your friends and coworkers do afterhours?
Thomas Moore: Well, sometime we would play baseball when we was working out at the Hanford Site. One time I remember—there was no women there, you know.
Vanessa Moore: When you came there were no women?
Thomas Moore: No, it was just all men.
Vanessa Moore: So you had to find something to do.
Thomas Moore: And what happened, we was having a baseball game one Sunday, and a lady showed up, but her husband had got hurt. We broke up the game because everybody wanted to go look at her.
Vanessa Moore: Did they get over back and finish the game?
Thomas Moore: No, we was playing on our own.
Vanessa Moore: Is that right!
Thomas Moore: That’s the truth. We broke up the whole game.
Vanessa Moore: Is that right? Now, I understand there was a baseball field out there. Is that right?
Thomas Moore: Yes. I don’t remember exactly whether that was the field we were playing on or not, but it was—
Vanessa Moore: [LAUGHTER] How long did you stay and work at Hanford?
Thomas Moore: I really don’t know that either.
Vanessa Moore: Months? Years?
Thomas Moore: I time-checked—that’s what they referred to it then—and moved back to Seattle.
Vanessa Moore: Time-checked. Can you tell me what that means?
Thomas Moore: We just—you just turn in your time and everything and quit.
Vanessa Moore: Oh, okay.
Thomas Moore: So it’s what you say, time-checking, they call it.
Vanessa Moore: And then you returned to Seattle? Okay. So it was a later date that you came back again to open the—
Thomas Moore: Yeah, in ’49. In December, I come back to purchase the place in December ’49.
Vanessa Moore: Okay. So you were one of the, if not the first, black-owned business in the Tri-Cities, it sounds like.
Thomas Moore: I was.
Vanessa Moore: That’s great, that’s great.
Thomas Moore: And my family was the first of doing almost everything in the Tri-Cities. My daughter was the first—Shirley was the first one to work at the US Bank as a teller.
Vanessa Moore: This was your daughter, Shirley.
Thomas Moore: Yeah. And then my wife was the first one was a checker at a Safeway store. And my other daughter, my baby daughter, was the first one to win Miss Tri-Cities.
Vanessa Moore: Wow. So many accomplishments in your family.
Thomas Moore: It really went—everything we went to, pretty good.
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hmm. Since we’re talking about family, tell me a little bit more about that. Are there—maybe your other children or businesses that you’ve had, things that you’ve done since those days?
Thomas Moore: Since—from then, or before then?
Vanessa Moore: Since then.
Thomas Moore: Since then?
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hmm.
Thomas Moore: Well, I left from the Poulet Palace and went over and opened up a pool hall. And from the pool hall—oops.
Vanessa Moore: That’s okay, you can just go ahead and hold that in your hand.
Thomas Moore: And from the pool hall, I just worked in there and come on until, in 1969, I worked eight years for Chuck Ackerblade in the scrap business, two dollars an hour. And then I opened my own place—
Vanessa Moore: Scrap business also?
Thomas Moore: In 1969. Hmm?
Vanessa Moore: Scrap business as well?
Thomas Moore: Yeah, scrap business in 1969. I worked for him just to learn the business. And then I’ve been in that for the last 32 years.
Vanessa Moore: So that’s brought you a long way. That’s a thriving business here in the Tri-Cities, isn’t it?
Thomas Moore: Well, it’s holding its own.
Vanessa Moore: Yeah. Any of your children still in the area, and tell us a little bit about them?
Thomas Moore: Well, I got—my son works with me. He started working with me when he could walk.
Vanessa Moore: [LAUGHTER] Probably not working too hard at that time.
Thomas Moore: Probably. He started following me when he could walk, and he been following me ever since. I got one daughter here and one daughter in Seattle. One son in San Diego and a daughter in Chicago.
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hmm, but you’ve chosen to stay here.
Thomas Moore: Oh, I guess I’ll cash in here.
Vanessa Moore: Long time ago since Texas, isn’t it? Okay, Tommy, I really do appreciate your time and the information and you mentioned—I’m going to take us back a little bit because I neglected to ask you this, that they didn’t really tell you what everyone was working on out there. Did you have an idea, or did you suspect what it was?
Thomas Moore: No, the only thing we knew, that I.E. DuPont made shotgun shells. Now, that we knew. [LAUGHTER] That was all that everybody talked about. So when you compared to—well, it had to be something explosive.
Vanessa Moore: At least that much, we—
Thomas Moore: The fella with the shotgun business and the shell business—
Vanessa Moore: Was in charge.
Thomas Moore: Something. But we didn’t, nobody knew.
Vanessa Moore: Okay.
Thomas Moore: You just do what you was told and get off and go back to the barracks.
Vanessa Moore: And go back to the barracks. Now, you did live in the barracks for a while?
Thomas Moore: Oh, yeah, it’s when I was living in the barracks and when I time-checked, I did.
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hmm. Tell—can you tell us a little bit about what that was like? I mean, did they have rules like military barracks, or this was just the housing?
Thomas Moore: It was just two men to the room, and there wasn’t nothing, you didn’t have no laws or nothing like that, you just went home and then they—full barracks and a washhouse in the center.
Vanessa Moore: It was attached to it, or--?
Thomas Moore: Yeah, it was a four units but then where they attached together, that’s where the showers was, the showers and the bathrooms and all that stuff. And then from that to the mess hall.
Vanessa Moore: For eating. So pretty much everything was—
Thomas Moore: So you really didn’t need anything else, you know.
Vanessa Moore: It’s kind of like a little town.
Thomas Moore: They fed good.
Vanessa Moore: Is that right?
Thomas Moore: Yeah.
Vanessa Moore: Solid meals, huh? Okay, well, thank you very much. If there are names of others who worked out there, we’d like to know who those people were and maybe talk with them.
Thomas Moore: I can’t remember nothing that’s been that far back.
Vanessa Moore: Well, if something comes to you, let me know, I appreciate it.
Thomas Moore: Thank you.
Vanessa Moore: Thank you.
Vanessa Moore: Tommy, you mentioned before that you came to Washington state from Alice, Texas. I was curious about the type of work that you did in Alice.
Thomas Moore: I was a cook at a restaurant. First, I started out as a dishwasher for five dollars a week and worked on up ‘til I got cook. But the reason why they wouldn’t give me a cooking a job, because I’d have to take a job as a dishwasher, because the restaurants was hard—they didn’t want to live any customers, and for a young kid, as young as I was, they wouldn’t hire you as a cook. But when the cooks—all cooks drink quite a bit. So when a cook showed up—or the cook didn’t show up because he was drunk, then I’d get in the kitchen and start from dishwashing go get on the grill.
Vanessa Moore: So you were cooking anyway.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, and then I’d get the job. [LAUGHTER] Yeah that’s about it. And then I—it was 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Vanessa Moore: And what kind of wages?
Thomas Moore: Oh, the most I ever made was $17.
Vanessa Moore: $17 a week, is that correct? Okay. So you had heard that in Washington State—
Thomas Moore: It was paying a dollar an hour.
Vanessa Moore: For the same type of work?
Thomas Moore: Yes, and I had a 1935 convertible Packard, I bought it in 1937. They had a Plymouth, yellow with a black top, $875. I wanted to come and get it. It was 1940.
Vanessa Moore: So you were motivated, is what you’re telling me.
Thomas Moore: Yeah, that’s right, I wanted to come and trade my Packard in and get that Plymouth.
Vanessa Moore: Thank you, I appreciate that.
Vanessa Moore: Tommy, there is a period of years between you leaving Hanford, leaving this area, and then coming back later on to purchase the Poulet Palace. What were you doing during that time and where did you live?
Thomas Moore: Well, I lived at the Jackson Hotel and then—
Vanessa Moore: This is in Seattle?
Thomas Moore: In Seattle. And then I was working for George Crawford Smith at a restaurant. He didn’t know anything about a restaurant, but he had the money to buy it. So I went to work for him. And then, after a length of time—I worked for him for about a year and a half—I bought my own place.
Vanessa Moore: Still in the Seattle area?
Thomas Moore: Yes. And he said that I wouldn’t make it. So I told him, I said, well, Mr. Smith, you were 48 years old before you made it, and I’m 21. I can go in and out of business a long time before I get 48. [LAUGHTER] And still make it. So that’s life.
Vanessa Moore: Mm-hmm. Did you spend any time in the military at all over your career?
Thomas Moore: Yes, I’d volunteered for the Army Transfer Service. And I don’t exactly know how many years I was in that, but I made 22 trips to Japan, eight trips to Hawai’i, and eight trips to Jeosang, Korea.
Vanessa Moore: You’ve been all around.
Thomas Moore: I have been, yeah. I went more further overseas than I have in the United States.
Vanessa Moore: Wow. Where were you stationed when you were in the service?
Thomas Moore: Bremerton.
Vanessa Moore: Bremerton, Washington?
Thomas Moore: Yes.
Vanessa Moore: Okay. So you’ve covered a lot of this state, too.
Thomas Moore: Well, not too bad.
Vanessa Moore: Not to mention, though, we’re all—well, Mr. Moore, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.
Thomas Moore: Okay.
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