"Most all my life I spent in the woods," says Dr. John Moore, a veteran hobo who wandered from the makeshift sites along the railroad tracks and discovered the secrets of wild herbs he found along his travels.
"Herbology," he says in his heavy southern accent and with the folk wisdom of his 50+ years, "is Life itself," as he begins to rattle off how the Indians used Golden Seal root for skin cancer, how Elecampane has been used for 2000 years as insulin for diabetes, how Ginseng helps in restoring the worn out tissues of the body.
His message is that herbs as a natural food and a cure-all for bodily ills, are the key to our survival. "As I traveled," says Moore who made over 200 trips in the box cars of freight trains from coast to coast, "I went to visit different herbolgists, and I learned their remedies and kept records of them. I have some herbal books that are 312 years old, donated to me in trust."
The big man (he must weigh at least 240 pounds) who comes on like a kindly but earthy grandfatherly type also made stopping off points, like New York's Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, where he mounted a soap box to give his own unique lectures on herbology.
"I debated with the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana's former head of State)," he boasts. "When he was a student at Lincoln University (in Pennsylvania), he came to Washington Square, and I met him one night and we debated on Marxism."
Marxism? "Yes!" he says with pride.
Dr. John Moore says he is now the Minister of Cultural and Domestic Affairs for the Hobo International Society although he gave up the traveling life about four years ago. The society, he says, has a membership of about two million and claims the like of such former hoboes as ex-boxing champ Jack Dempsey and the late poet Carl Sandburg.
He cites the history of the movement. It started about 1870, he says, and was called The International Itinerant Migratory Workers Union. Then in 1906, the name was changed to Hoboes of America, Inc., it was incorporated in 1914, he goes on as he pulls out a worn and faded membership card to prove his point, and a few years later it was given its present name.
"Oh, to be a wandering nomad, to live simple and be free, to live with Nature," says Moore who obviously has picked up some phrases from his erudite colleague, astrologer Kanya KéKumbha, "that was the life," but he hastens to add, "I'm still a hobo, but moving into modern society."
He wasn't dressed like one a few nights ago as he spouted forth on the virtues of herbology in Kanya's apartment at 382 Central Park West, in New York City. Sitting amidst the clutter of books, manuscripts and other odds and ends, the Doctor wore a blue denim shirt over a colorful dashiki, baggy overalls and black paratrooper boots.
Moore met Kanya about 17 years ago (1973) and now teaches a course at the city's Hunter College called "Herbs for Health and Survival" as part of the Kanya Academy of Occult Sciences (KAOS).
Kanya has spent more than 20 years studying astrology, yet holds such traditional degrees as a Bachelor's in psychology and mathematics, from Case/Western Reserve University and a Master's in Comparative Religions from the University of the Pacific.
The KAOS program is taught under the auspices of City University of New York's "SEEK Program" (for minority students who need a little extra help in college studies) and together Kanya and Moore and others enlighten the uninitiated a couple of hours every evening.
"To be a good herbologist," says Dr. Moore, "you have to study astrology. There's a relationship between the type of person you are and the type of herb that suits you, and you'be got to take it at the right time. There are thousands of herbs for each sign."
(Herbs are used, he says, either by eating outright, boiled as tea, or prepared as ointments or bathing potions.)
"I'm a Capricorn," he says, "and all Capricorns are born under the sign of the billy goat and are automatically from birth subject to have rheumatism arthritis and bad teeth." One herb they'd have to select, he says, is Alfalfa.
Since he's been moving around in "modern society," Moore has also lectured at various other places. In fact, he says he got his honorary doctorate in "World Survival," and hence the title "Doctor" from New York University's Weinstein Center for Student Living where he once spoke on "Survival in the 21st Century."
"I was dealing with the great herbs that would be used at this time," and, he says, he's also revealed the secrets of "Hobo Tin Can Cooking" at the California Institute of Technology.
"I first practiced herbology on hoboes of all nationalities and colors, then I moved into the cities (on his freight train stops) and I have letters and cards from people all over the country who will testify," says Moore who got into all this as a boy of 10 in his native Caddogap, Ark. where he began to study with the black midwives who were "using the old herbs of their ancestors" like Tropical Yam for birth control and Red Raspberry to ease the pain of childbirth.
When he was 15, he left his father James, a "hard-shelled Baptist jack-leg preacher" and his mother Emma who lived in a house over 100 years old on an Arkansas farm, and began his life on the road, at first traveling throughout the South, sleeping in cottonseed houses, before he hit the trains.
"Did you know that in the early South they used herbs like Eyebright for eye troubles?" "And," he says, "Black Walnut Leaves were used for iodine, it's the most pure form."
After his years on the road, and before joining Kanya, he had worked for a short while with Picel Products, Inc., a small black company which manufactured the UKAMA comb. He says that the company started in the basement of a Harlem storefront, but after getting a patent for the comb, the owners moved the business to Detroit in 1971.
"I was the herbologist there. I looked after the health of the workers, and was in charge of the research department," says the Doctor, who noted that after making three million of these combs, and moving to Idlewild, Michigan, the plant folded.
But not before holding a "survival symposium" for the Institute of the Black World, an Atlanta-based research group headed by Dr. Vincent Harding, a renowned Black scholar. And on this occasion, the versatile John Moore displayed yet another talent, when he prepared an "organic survival meal" for 135 guests.
"We had whole wheat raisin bread with organic beets in the center, raw corn, raw vegetable juices, fresh organic raw beef bacon, different nuts, teas, honeys, and bee pollen," says the Doctor who believes "we live in a system that grows everything fast, and puts poisons in" [synthetic fertilizers] rather than "natural fertilizer like cow dung."
By way of further explanation, he says, "the apple today is not like the apple of 50 years ago &emdash; we kept them in the cellars of the home, and you could taste the sweetness...."
The two practitioners of the "natural," Kanya and Moore hold periodic "retreats" in Pawling, New York where invited guests, again for a nominal fee to keep the Academy going, spend weekends under the stars which they disus along with the companion herbs.
"Our future hope is to get some land in the South and get people out of the cities," says Moore, who'd eventually like to see a "Kanya Academy of Astrology and Herbology larger than Columbia University."
KAOS has now been invited to the Grand Ballroom of the Statler Hilton Hotel on "Mother's Day" May 12, (1975) by the Astrologer's Guild of America, Inc., where Kanya will address the assembly on "The Astrological Nature of the Races of Mankind" and Dr. Moore will buttress this presentation with his unique knowledge of "Herbs for Health and Survival During the Oncoming Worldwide Famine.
Note: Dr. John E. Moore, Director of Herbology at The Tree of Life in Harlem passed from this Earth Thursday evening, August 2, 1990 at 7:00 pm just as the Moon passed into his Sun sign of Capricorn. He was 63 years old and a patient at the Qualicare Nursing Home in Detroit, Michigan where he was diagnosed as suffering from a combination of TB and pneumonia.
In 1976 The Kanya Academy of Occult Studies (KAOS) was re-named The Tree of Life (Bookstore & Educational Center of Harlem). It was torn down on September 12th 1980 by (HUDC) the Harlem Urban Development Corporation to make room for a hotel/trade center complex that was never built. In its place there stands a parking lot. (1990)