Emotional Juanita Moore bids adieu to the Wright

Michael H. Hodges
Juanita Moore says goodbye to the Wright Museum in a ceremony Tuesday evening.

Detroit — With halting voice, a teary Juanita Moore thanked her supporters Tuesday evening and said goodbye to the institution she's led for 12 years. 

The president and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, usually so good with words, struggled at the podium to find ones that would serve her. 

When she broke off at one point, someone in the back of the crowded auditorium shouted, "We love you, Juanita!" 

Moore, who's retiring and moving home to North Carolina on Saturday, explained she grew up in a large family "where I learned how to work tobacco before I learned to read." Neither of her parents, she said, ever had the luxury of schooling. 

"I went to a segregated school — still segregated even after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954," she said to a rising chorus of assent from her audience. 

Educating children, Moore noted, was the moral foundation on which Dr. Charles H. Wright founded his museum 52 years ago.

"Dr. Wright built this museum for me," she said with emphasis, as people rose to their feet in applause, "and for all the children like me." 

There was hardly a parking spot late Tuesday afternoon within blocks of the museum as the community Moore has built around her institution flocked to "A Tribute to Juanita Moore."

The event started in the museum's striking, sun-filled rotunda, where guests included former Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Anne Parsons, and then moved into the Wright's theater for remarks and remembrances.

Among the speakers were Eric Peterson, Wright board chairman, and Detroit recording artist and slam-poet Michael D. Ellison. 

Just before Moore took to the stage, Detroit Institute of Arts Director Salvador Salort-Pons said he'll badly miss his colleague.

"Juanita's been an incredible supporter of mine," he said. "She's given me advice —great advice — and opened her museum to collaboration with the DIA. I'm very sad she's leaving."

Moore's generosity came up time and again in conversations. 

Cheryl James, production manager for the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, said the performance group was homeless, "bouncing from place to place, until Juanita invited us to make this our new home. I don't know what we're going to do without her."

Asked to describe Moore, James thought a moment, and then said, "Awesome. Outstanding. Courageous."

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