Grew Up In St. Louis
Archibald Lee Wright was born on December 13, 1913 in Benoit, a small town in the Mississippi Delta. His parents, Lorena and Thomas Wright, worked as farm laborers and separated not long after their son was born. Taken in by his aunt, Willie Pearl Moore, and her husband, Cleveland, he moved to St. Louis to live with the couple and took their surname as his own. The Moores eventually raised Archie, his older sister, Rena, and their half-brothers, Samuel and Louis. Around 1930 two tragedies struck the Moore family in quick succession. First, Cleveland Moore was paralyzed after an initiation
ritual into a fraternal organization went awry. He eventually died from the injury. Shortly thereafter, Moore's newlywed sister, Rena, died while giving birth to twins. One of the twins also died and the surviving child was brought up by Willie Pearl Moore. The loss of Cleveland Moore's income plunged the family into economic hardship, which was compounded by the effects of the Great Depression.
With the loss of his uncle and sister, Moore entered into a period of rebellion. An indifferent student at racially segregated Lincoln High School in St. Louis, he began stealing in his neighborhood and even from his own family. As Moore recalled in his 1960 autobiography The Archie Moore Story, the theft and sale of two oil lamps from his aunt's house paid for his first set of boxing gloves. "I should have worn the boxing gloves the clock around," he wrote, "But I became adept at light-fingered lifting along with the rest of my gang." Moore progressed from stripping the copper wiring from abandoned houses to sell to scrap metal dealers to running onto streetcars and stealing the change box while a friend distracted the operator. After being arrested three times for theft, the authorities lost their patience with Moore and a trial resulted in a three-year sentence in the Missouri Training School in Boonville.
Moore subsequently spent twenty-two months in the Missouri Training School and the experience turned his life around. As he wrote in The Archie Moore Story, "The reform school was my personal crossroads. I had burned the bridge of formal education behind me and I now had a choice of which way to go and what to do. The feeling of shame that came over me when I thought of how my auntie must feel made the good she had built into me come forth." Hearing that professional fighters could earn up to $750 for a night's work, Moore decided to pursue boxing as a career. He began training in the school's facilities and scored sixteen knockout wins in his first year of intramural matches.
After nearly two years in reform school, Moore earned an early release and returned to St. Louis in the depths of the Great Depression. After struggling to find regular employment, Moore entered the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program set up by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to give employment to young men. Moore was sent to work on a forestry project in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and the hard work helped to build his muscle mass. He practiced his boxing moves every day, often improvising his workouts while he performed his duties. Moore also organized boxing matches for his CCC camp and helped to train some of the other fighters. As an amateur, Moore made his debut in an April 1935 match against Julius Kemp in St. Louis, which he lost in three rounds. Moore triumphed over Kemp in their second meeting with a third round knockout. Moore's other fight in his first year as an amateur took place in Poplar Bluff, where he won by a knockout in the second round over Billy Sims.