John V. Moeser is a local scholar on the origins and effects of poverty in the Richmond region. When the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike was built in the mid-1950’s, it cut Jackson Ward, almost solidly African American, in half. The highway, now part if I-95, caused widespread displacement of African-American families who were then forced to live in public housing or move into white neighborhoods, which in turn led to white-flight into the suburbs.

John V. Moeser is a lifelong academic, not a public official. But no one in the Richmond region has been more of a leader in confronting poverty as it grows beyond jurisdictional boundaries.

Moeser has raised his voice on editorial pages and in public forums this year to urge local governments to work together to address the common challenges posed by the increase in poverty in their communities.

"Poverty is no respecter of local boundaries," he wrote in a commentary on region's history in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in June. "It couldn't care less whether it appears in Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico or some other locality. When it comes to combating poverty, however, we have yet to unite in a common cause."

Earlier in the year, Moeser and two colleagues at the University of Richmond wrote a commentary piece about "the changing nature of regional poverty" and proposed a regional approach helping children of impoverished families succeed in K-12 classrooms.

"Educators get it," he said in a recent interview. "They see it every day in the classroom."

Moeser, professor emeritus for urban studies and planning at Virginia Commonwealth University, is senior fellow at the University of Richmond's Bonner Center for Civic Engagement. The Texas native arrived in Richmond in 1970, just as the region was tearing itself apart over annexation, racial integration of public schools and busing.

He published "The Politics of Annexation" in 1982, an examination of Richmond's annexation of part of Chesterfield County in 1970 to dilute the black vote in the city and its political aftermath.

Moeser served on the anti-poverty commission created by Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones, helped lead a Public Square forum at the RTD on segregation, and was recognized as Peacemaker of the Year by the Richmond Peace Education Center and Humanitarian of the Year by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.

"It was a surprising year," he said.

A small moment in life with a big impact

I was attending graduate school at George Washington University in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As news circled the globe, large cities across the United States exploded in riots, including Washington. The day of the riots, I was heading to Capitol Hill to listen to debates about new civil rights legislation that was before Congress. I never reached the Capitol, however, because all of the federal offices, including the Capitol and congressional buildings, shut down early due to the rioting. Suddenly cars flooded the streets as people made a mad scramble to head home. I was in my 1965 VW bug at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street, trapped in an enormous gridlock such that cars couldn’t move. Meanwhile, smoke from burning buildings was rising on the northern horizon, and rioters could be seen in the distance on 14th Street heading south toward downtown. People stuck in their cars were in a panic, I among them. Somehow, someway, almost unbelievably, traffic began to move, and I made it home to our apartment on Rockville Pike. Once reunited, my wife, Sharon, and I turned on television and stayed glued to the tube for hours, day after day.

A day or so after the riots had been quelled, a call went out for volunteers to assist with relief efforts in the riot area. I volunteered and worked with a Catholic relief agency. I took my camera and captured the surrealism of armed troops patrolling the sidewalks and streets only blocks away from the U.S. Supreme Court and the Capitol - burned-out buildings shadowed by a haze of smoke that wafted over the capital of democracy.

Role model

My father, who lost his job because he told a bank executive that what he was doing was illegal and unethical.

Something you’d like to do

Be a train engineer on a rail line from the Midwest to California.

Something that might surprise others

Because I am a teacher, supposedly retired, who still spends time in the classroom as a guest lecturer and who makes many public presentations throughout metropolitan Richmond, many people assume that I am an extrovert. In fact, I’m an introvert.


Position: senior fellow, Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, University of Richmond; professor emeritus of urban studies and planning, Virginia Commonwealth University

Born/hometown: Nov. 3, 1942; Lubbock, Texas

College: Texas Tech University, University of Colorado, George Washington University

Family: wife Sharon, sons Jeremy and David

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.