In the summers, the Moore children went out early in the morning to work in the fields of their family farm. Wearing sun caps made by their mother, Ella, they hoed peas, corn, collard greens, sugarcane, peanuts, and potatoes.
Some fed the hogs and chickens or guided the mule and plow. Having no watches, they told time by the sun. Stepping on the sliver of their shadow at high noon meant lunch was ready soon.
In the shade of a pecan tree, the brothers and sisters ate watermelon chilled in the spring and drank cold water their mother pulled from the well. Laying on quilts or leaning against the trunk of the tree, they napped until the worst of the heat had passed.
But soon the pecan tree, the sugarcane and collard patches, and four of the Moores’ homes sit on 20 acres that could be seized and bulldozed by the Alabama Department of Transportation to widen U.S. 43.
“This land provides for my family and keeps us together. If the state takes it, they will leave us homeless,” said Carolyn Moore Fuqua, one of the 11 relatives who would lose their homes. “This would end everything our family worked for, just to put some cement and gravel down. We support the expansion, we just want it to take less of our land.”
The 120-acre homestead has been in the Moore/Grayson family for more than 100 years. Seven generations were born on the land that their ancestors, including former slaves, Native Americans, and an Irishman, first worked as sharecroppers. Seventy-five people living in 10 houses still call this land home, and this weekend another 100 Moores and Graysons from across the country will return home for the Fourth of July.
“Our mother raised 11 kids, plus her sister’s three children after she passed away at an early age. She also raised a few others who needed a home,” Carolyn said.
“My parents raised 17 of us,” she said. “Mama and daddy never turned anyone away and treated the other kids like they treated us. We didn’t have much money, and the house we grew up in was a shack, but mama said we made her a rich woman.”
The family didn’t get electricity until 1966, so Ella washed her family’s clothes on a washboard with soap made from the lard of a hog her husband Robert slaughtered. Clothes too worn to be passed down to one more child were cut up and made into quilts.
Ella and Robert could afford few treats or gifts for so many children, but sometimes they could buy one for all to share.
“Mama would buy us a Coke, and each of us got a sip,” Carolyn said. “It wasn’t much, but that one sip tasted so good. Then we returned the bottle and got a nickel back.”
Their parents brought home a bike, and the children rode it until there was no rubber left on the tires.
“We went down the road to the store yelling, ‘My turn!’ for a chance to ride the bike,” Carolyn said. “One hopped off, and another hopped on. It taught us how to share.”
Sunday was the only day the family didn’t work in the fields. Most mornings, breakfast was a big pan of biscuits covered in melted butter and served with peach, plum or pear preserves. But Sundays were a feast, with fried bacon, chicken, and patties made from canned salmon. Dessert was sugarcane syrup poured over sugarcane bread.
The children would survey the food with one eye open while waiting for their father to finish saying grace.
“We held hands as he prayed, and we were all thinking, ‘Daddy, please hurry up,’” Carolyn said. “Everything smelled so good, and we didn’t want the biscuits to get cold.”
The Moores grew, caught or killed much of their food, and they shared with neighbors. On Saturdays, their father took the kids fishing.
“We went to the river about 3 a.m. when the fish were biting, then had a fish fry on Saturday night,” Carolyn said. “The whole community came over for hot fish.”
The land still provides for the family. Brothers Joe and Nate Moore grow fruits and vegetables, and Staff Sgt. Russell Moore, a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm, hunts deer, squirrel, and turkey. Cutting down timber helped put a few of the younger generation through college.
The land also gives the family a chance to serve others.
“When someone breaks down on the highway, I tell them they came to the right place,” Carolyn said. “My nephew has a wrecker next door and can tow folks to town for help. I take people into my home, give them something to drink and care for them while they wait. Moving us means we can’t care for our community the way we were taught to do.”
The expansion has been proposed for more than 30 years as a way to bring development into the Black Belt and cut a little driving time between Tuscaloosa and Mobile.
The Moores first heard about the $800 million project moving forward a year ago. Letters from an engineering firm informed property owners of surveyors entering the property and even asked for assistance. In a February meeting with the project engineer, the family expressed their concerns and suggested alternatives. They were told their land was the cheapest route — alternatives would be too expensive.
The family is fighting back and trying to get someone to listen, but they fear Alabama will use the power of eminent domain to take their land for public use, even if it’s against their wishes.
It has happened before. In 1923, Alabama took a portion of the Moores’ land to build the first U.S. 43, and didn’t pay a penny for it.
“We aren’t trying to stop the project,” said Carolyn’s twin sister Marolyn Moore Grant.. “We just want them to make changes so we can stay in our homes. They can even park some of their equipment on our land.”
Carolyn’s son André is getting a doctorate in engineering at the University of Texas. He is helping his family navigate the process and speak up for themselves. Also an artist and photographer, André created a website, www.SeizeNoMooreHomes.com, to tell their story and ask people to sign a petition and send letters to Gov. Kay Ivey asking her to spare the Moores’ homes.
“I study land, soil, and geology because of growing up here,” André said. “You can’t replicate the love and history of what we have. I want to come back and build a house on this land.”
André said ALDOT could make changes to take a smaller amount of land, such as eliminating the median and reducing the right of way on the proposed road, to keep his mother, aunts, and uncles in their homes.
The worry and stress of waiting for answers has taken a toll on the family.
“Our mother used to tell us that sometimes the best answer is no answer. Time will work out the solution for you,” Carolyn said. “But we are running out of time.”
Marolyn said it’s about saving their history, freedom, and way of life. It’s not about money, she said.
“If they came here with a million dollars on a tray, we would say keep the money and leave our homes,” she said. “Our bodies are worn and torn from working this land, but we are here because of the work and prayers of our ancestors. If you take this from us, where would we go and what would we do? You might as well bury us.”
ALDOT broke ground on the project in November 2021 in Linden, eventually paving its way south through Dixon Mills to Thomasville. The Moores realize that despite their objections and compromises, there may be nothing they can do to save their homes. They are taking more pictures and longer looks to remember their land the way it’s always been.
“A year or two from now, this scenery and our homes may be gone,” Carolyn said. “We are for economic development and progress, but this sacrifice won’t be fair to us. There has to be another way.”
Here is the link to the GoFundMe to help the Moores with attorney fees: https://gofund.me/182cec62