At DailyKos today Blueness reminds us of how brave Americans can be in the struggle for racial equality. On this day, some 47 years ago the courageous William Moore, a postal worker and civil rights activist from Baltimore began his walk from Chattanooga to Jackson, Mississippi. He had a letter for one of our leading autocratic, white supremacist politicians, heading up a totalitarian Jim Crow system, Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi– a letter pressing him for racial desegregation. This was Moore’s third freedom walk:
On Moore’s final walk, as soon as he crossed the state line into Alabama, he was assailed by white motorists who denounced him as a “nigger-lover,” and pelted him with rocks. On April 23, radio station WGAD in Gadsden, Alabama received an anonymous phone tip as to Moore’s location. Reporter Charlie Hicks drove out to find Moore walking along a rural stretch of Highway 11 near Attalla. Moore told Hicks, “I intend to walk right up to the governor’s mansion in Mississippi and ring his door bell. Then I’ll hand him my letter.” …. Less than an hour after Hicks left him, a motorist found Moore’s body about a mile farther down the road, shot twice in the head at close range with a .22 caliber rifle. The gun was traced to one Floyd Simpson, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, with whom Moore had discussed integration, interracial marriage, and religion earlier in the day.
“I don’t see how anybody,” Simpson later said, “could believe in such things as intermarriage between the white and Negro races unless he was being paid for it. I told him they are having trouble in Birmingham, and I advised him to turn back as he would never get through Birmingham.”
Moore’s letter to Governor Barnet thad this message:
the white man cannot be truly free himself until all men have their rights. . .. Be gracious and give more than is immediately demanded of you.
Blueness continues with the follow-up:
Over the next month, 29 other people, black and white, tried to complete Moore’s walk. All carried signs reading “Mississippi Or Bust.” All were arrested and jailed.
And of course there was little white support, even from “liberal sources” for such protests, something we should not forget either:
The New York Times opined that Moore had died on a “pitifully naive pilgrimage”; two years previously, in the wake of brutal assaults on Freedom Riders, a Gallup poll found that 63% of white Americans who were aware of white civil-rights activists, like Moore and the Freedom Riders, disapproved of them. Just weren’t ready yet, most white folk.
Many whites still are not prepared for a truly desegregated society. Moore was 36 years old, a CORE member and veteran civil rights activist, and he was white. (see here).
Thanks for this, Joe. It’s important to remember those who’ve died in struggle. Just as important, I think, is to recall how unpopular these actions were at the time – as in the New York Times quote that notes 63% of whites disapproved of these actions. Given popular culture representations of the civil rights era (e.g., “Mississippi Burning”) which feature heroic whites battling racism, it’s a good reminder that most of whites were not on the side of justice.
Thanks for the post about Wm. L. Moore. He was a neighbor. I used to chat with him as he walked by on his way home from work. My siblings were classmates of his. I was very moved by his autobiographical book, “The Mind In Chains”. I went to his memorial service. We named Binghamton’s CORE chapter “The William L. Moore Chapter” in honor of his memory.