Perhaps wandering the highways and the byways In Them Days was easier for the young Archie, because he was on something of a quest. He had spent his early years with one eye cocked, thinking this man or that one, coming round the corner or down the alley, might be Tommy Wright. He was the father who had gone away when Archie was a baby.
Tommy Wright was, really, no man for a boy to long for. His only prowess was in his loins; he fathered a dozen children, maybe many more. But he was a good enough fellow, trapped in institutionalized bigotry only two generations removed from slavery. Even as a little boy, Archie seemed to realize that in some other time or place. Tommy Wright would have made a fine father. Of course, Moore always gave his fellow man the benefit of the doubt. Of the 100 or so boxers he fought, he hated none and only "disliked" Jimmy Bivins for a time, because Bivins hit him once when the Mongoose was already down on his knees in the first of their five fights.
Then, too, Moore had a good father substitute in his uncle, Cleveland Moore. His mother had given the young boy and his sister over to her brother Cleveland and his wife, Willie Pearl, to be raised in a proper family, but in a freak accident when Archie was about 12, his uncle was fatally injured. Cleveland, on his deathbed, called for the boy. "Put your hand in mine," he sighed.
"He had this big old paw," Moore says, "and it swallowed up my hand, and then he said, 'Promise me one thing.' And I said, 'Yes, Uncle Cleve.' " And then Archie starts to cry. That is, the 75-year-old Archie, 63 years later, starts to cry. Maybe the 12-year-old Archie did too. "Take care of your auntie for me, will you please?"
The little boy said he would. And he did, through all the days until she was laid in the ground last year.
But first, young Archie fell in with the wrong crowd, "a fresh bunch of punks," he says, and when he was caught swiping change from a streetcar, a draconian judge gave him three years in reform school. That was where he had his first real fight.
Moore was only 15 then, one of the youngest and smallest inmates. At meals absolute silence was required, so the boys developed a sign language. For example, holding up the little finger meant pass the sugar. In time, though, the sign also came to mean a homosexual endearment—the sugar bowl metamorphosing to sweet to sweetheart.
Before long, one of the older kids glanced over at young Archie, clucked and raised his little finger. "See, he was saying, Be my sweetheart," Moore explains. "So I went over to him. I weighed only 128 and had this baby face. There was such a hush. You could hear the silence. You know how it is when you can hear silence? And I hit him. One time. He fell back and his head hit the floor, and blood started trickling out of his ear. I thought I'd fractured his skull. I didn't, but...I never had no more trouble in that place."
So, too, did Moore come to understand that he packed a wallop. He would end up with 129 knockouts, more than any other boxer in history.
He preferred, however, to be stylish, a counterfighter, jabbing, choreographing—taking one step to the other fellow's two—looking for the moment when he could stick in a left hook or a right cross. Other fighters would come to the gym just to watch Moore work out. He often accepted a fight because, in effect, it provided him with an evening's sparring partner. Besides, it was fun. "I was a master. A master," he announces.