Phyllis Kimber Wilcox
Civil rights and community activist Willie Lee Moses, known in the Perris community as the “Mayor of Good Hope,” is celebrating her 100th birthday in February.
Moses has been active in Perris Valley since moving there in 1957. During an oral history interview with the Bridges that Carried Us Over Project Moses spoke about her life including the early years.
“I was born in the deep south, north Louisiana, [in a town named] Farmerville. … In those days, they didn’t have all the fancy classes and all like they have now.”
Moses explained how she went from elementary all the way through high school at the same school and graduated valedictorian. After high school she attended two years at an all Black college in Louisiana, located about 30 miles from where she lived.
And then, according to Moses, “World War II came.”
During the war she moved to the state of Washington where she married. “After I got married, I worked for an ammunition depot right outside of Seattle, and my husband worked at the Navy yard. We worked there for almost three years, and when the war was over, we took our savings and went back home to Louisiana.”
Sometime afterward, Moses and her husband, the late Henry Moses would move to California. They lived in Los Angeles and later moved to the Willowbrook area–located between Los Angeles and Compton– where they purchased a home. Moses earned her real estate license, bought some land and built two stores and a laundromat.
Moving to Perris
The move to Perris Valley occurred after Moses, affected by a chronic medical condition, believed a drier climate would improve her health. They bought land in the Perris Valley and became active in the community.
Moses has been instrumental in the growth of the area. She took a leadership role in various organizations and projects including updating the city’s infrastructure, construction of an elementary school and community center as well as taking part in the first Human Relations Commission which as she noted, “facilitated dialogue and training for community leaders that helped move race relations forward in the community and schools. “
Moses, who worked for the school district as the food service manager, honors the relationships she made there. ‘Yeah. I served on a lot of different committees. . .because [getting to know people through] the school, it led out into other organizations. And that’s how I got to be known in the county.”
Moses served the citizens of Perris in various other ways including providing food baskets to seniors, clothing and shoes for children, and buying school lunches for students who could not afford it. Her commitment to the community was rewarded when Perris’ Moses-Schaffer Community Center was co-named in her honor. “[I]t was named for Mr. Schaffer and myself,” she acknowledged.
As part of her involvement in helping update infrastructure in Perris Valley, Moses shared how they had to work on bringing gas to the area., “[W]e didn’t have gas,” said Moses. Adding, “First, we didn’t have water. You had to go to…downtown Perris…and you could go haul water… “
Human Relations Commission
Moses worked to improve civil rights through her involvement with Perris Valley’s first Human Relations Commission. The effort, according to Moses, received funding from University of California, Riverside.
“We’d have rallies to talk about diversity and all.” Moses explained noting how the participants were a mixed group, but she also recalled how some of the people involved, “learned nothing, because they didn’t really want to learn. But some of the people were anxious and really worked hard at understanding.”
Organizing through the church
Moses was also active in democratic politics through her membership in the AME church. “Well, we did a lot of voting and registering voters and things like that to bring people together. The church participated in it because they believed in working with everything to make things better. And being [that Perris was] a kind of new environment, everything was needed. So you could always find something that needed working on or with. [T]hat’s how we accomplished a lot of things that other people didn’t… because we would work together through the church.”
Moses’ many contributions to the community will be acknowledged at a celebration in her honor at the Riverside Moses Schaffer Community Center on Friday, February 18, 2022 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. For additional information or to RSVP, please contact Eleanor Moses at: email@example.com or by calling (510) 290-4563.