Edward O. Moss was born 9 Sep 1862 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was one of five children born to Francis Moss and Marie Louise Leavens. Moss was descended from a family which had been free for several generations prior to the Civil War. His father was a barber, as were his uncles Felix R. Barthelemy and Franklin Moss. His father Francis’ shop was located at 118 North Rampart Street. His uncle Franklin “Frank” Moss also operated a barber shop at Canal and Marais streets.
Moss married Mary E. White on 10 November 1890. They had six children: Camille Magdalena, Edward Noel, Edwin Ignatius, Leslie Noelie, Marie Louise, and Orlando Sylvester. Edward and Mary resided at 219 North Roman Street, between Iberville and Bienville, opposite St. James A.M.E. Church.
He operated a barber shop at 108-110 Baronne Street next to Jesuit Church. His successful shop catered to an elite white clientele. Among his clients were the department store owners and other gentlemen of the business district.
Moss was a civic leader and a member of the Iroquois Social and Literary Club. The Iroquois Club was a social club, but functioned as a gathering place for leaders in the Republican Party. Moss’ grandson Walter Ennis recalls him attending the annual Carnival breakfast of the Iroquois Club at the Pythian Temple. Moss served as a pallbearer at the funeral of P.B.S. Pinchback, first governor of color in Louisiana. He was a leader in the lawsuit to keep Southern University and A&M College in New Orleans (as opposed to Baton Rouge) in 1914. Moss was a charter partner in the People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company, which was founded by the Creole Republican leader Walter L. Cohen. He served on the board of directors of the company until his death.
Moss was a devout Catholic. Like many people of color, he initially resisted the opening of Saint Katherine Church on Tulane Avenue. Eventually, he became a dedicated parishioner of the church, active in its Holy Name Society and St. Vincent de Paul Society. Moss was among the most visible black leaders in the Holy Name Society across the archdiocese and was a founding member of the Archdiocesan Union of Holy Name Societies, which was comprised of representatives from the city’s colored parishes.
One of Moss’ greatest efforts was in leading the charge to keep Southern University in New Orleans. In 1913, New Orleans was home to four universities for people of color – Southern University, Straight University, New Orleans University, and Leland University – of the four, only one, Southern, was non-sectarian. At the time, Catholics were admonished not to send their children to Protestant institutions. Moss felt, as did others, that some option should be available for families who preferred that their children not attend to one of the private religious universities. Though ultimately unsuccessful, Moss was the title plaintiff on a case against the Governor and members of the Board of Directors who proposed to move the school to Scotlandville.
After the legal defeat, Moss is quoted as saying, “The way to save that building is by putting the Cross on it.” Edward Moss, Professor Andrew J. Bell, Medard H. Nelson, and others worked with Josephite Fathers Pierre Oscar Lebeau and Samuel Joseph Kelly to appeal to Mother Katharine Drexel to open a college for Catholic students in New Orleans. In the fall of 1915, the goal was realized when Xavier University opened its door offering a high school course of studies. A two-year Normal course was added in 1917, and the first four-year degrees were granted in 1925.
Edward Moss and his brother, Arnold L. Moss, a successful undertaker in the firm of Geddes & Moss, were participants in the 1926 Eucharistic Congress in Chicago. Moss was a member of Father Cuddy Council No. 21, Knights of Peter Claver, which was attached to St. Katherine Church. He served as Deputy Grand Knight for several years. He served as Grand Purser of Fourth Degree Grand Assembly No. 4 in New Orleans. The Grand Assembly was eventually named “E. O. Moss Grand Assembly” in his honor.
In 1934 he was elected president of the New Orleans Chapter of the National Catholic Interracial Coalition. Moss organized the chapter at St. Katharine Church along with George Lee Rieras, Dr. John Douse McCarthy, Dr. Percy P. Cruezot, and Attorney Alexander Pierre Tureaud. This organization, which was led nationally by black Attorney George Washington Bryant Conrad of Cincinnati, was founded in 1932 by Jesuit Father William Markoe, as the result of a splintering within the Federated Colored Catholics.
According to Walter Ennis, Moss walked from his shop to his uncle’s shop at Canal and Marais streets for lunch every day. In his later years, he was hit by an automobile while crossing the street and was blinded. He retired from his shop but still attended Mass regularly at St. Katherine. Ennis accompanied Moss to Mass during his later years. Edward Olander Moss died on 5 October 1941 while visiting his daughter, Marie Louise Moss Ermon, in Chicago. His body was returned to New Orleans, where he was buried with a High Requiem Mass from his longtime parish church, Saint Katherine’s. He was buried in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Avenue.
Photo Source: Sarah Palmer, “[Untitled],” Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, accessed December 12, 2012, http://hurricanearchive.org/items/show/26048.