What Price the Glory of One Man
By Erek B at Jan 25, 2009
William Lewis Moore, a postal worker living in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963 began a series of lone marches to state capitals, delivering letters to government officials in protest of segregation. Born in Binghamton, New York, he had spent four years of his youth in Mississippi from the age of three and was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). His first protest consisted of a walk to Annapolis, Maryland, and his second led to the White House, where he delivered a letter to President Kennedy, informing him of his plans to visit the South: "I am not making this walk to demonstrate either Federal rights or state rights, but individual rights. I am doing it to illustrate that peaceful protest is not altogether extinguished down there. I hope that I will not have to eat those words." He concluded: "If I may deliver any letters from you to those on my line of travel, I would be most happy to do so."
On April 22, 1963, for his third protest Moore arrived by bus in Chattanooga, Tennessee, planning to walk to Jackson, Mississippi and deliver a letter to Governor Ross Barnett. His letter read in part: "I dislike the reputation this state has acquired as being the most backward and most bigoted in the land. Those who truly love Mississippi must work to change this image." He began his trek that morning, wearing signboards that read "Equal Rights for All - Mississippi or Bust" on one side and had a modified restaurant slogan on the other: "Eat at Joe's - Both Black and White." The next morning, he wrote to the Associated Press in Trenton, Georgia, saying that he found his reception in the South to be "very courteous." He mentioned that one incident had occurred where an African-American in Chattanooga had objected to the term "black" on his sign and tore off that portion, saying it should have read "colored." Throughout the rest of his trip in Georgia, his reception was mixed: one woman bought him a milkshake, another smiled at him, some boys heckled him from inside a car, and others had thrown rocks. "If anything ever happened, I wonder if anybody would ever know," Moore wrote that morning to the minister of his church in Baltimore. "The road is a lonely place."
After Moore had arrived in Alabama, a phone caller to the radio station WGAD of Gadsden informed newsman Charlie Hicks that Moore was walking beside the highway and that "there might be a news story of consequence." Along the route Moore talked with a few men, recording in his diary that "they didn't think I'd finish my walk alive." Two of the same men later caught up with him by car, and "questioned my religious and political beliefs and one was sure I'd be killed for them."
By this point, Alabama police were aware of Moore's protest and kept tabs on his location. At 7 P.M., Moore was approach by A.G. McDowell, an Alabama State investigator in plain clothes. McDowell urged him to abandon his journey, or at the very least, remove his integration signs. "I warned him about the racial situation in Alabama but he wouldn't listen," McDowell recalled. "He told in a very nice way that he wanted to prove something and couldn't if he turned back."
At approximately 8 P.M., a passing motorist found the body of William Moore on Route 11 near Attalla. He had been shot in the head and neck at close range with a .22 rifle. His final protest had spanned three states and 60 miles over two days.
On the 25th, the New York Times ran the headline "White Foe of Segregation Slain on a Protest Trek in Alabama." When contacted by the press, Moore's wife said: "Oh, God, I don't know why anyone would want to hurt him. He was so kind."
Within days, Alabama authorities charged Floyd Simpson, a 40-year-old grocer from Collbran, with first-degree murder after receiving ballistic test results from the FBI. At the same time, CORE and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) announced plans to finish Moore's walk, despite a court injunction banning any activity from CORE in Alabama. Recalling the violence and riots sparked by the freedom bus rides in Alabama two years previously, authorities discouraged any similar action. "Perhaps their energies might be better used in a different direction than taking a walk," said Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The press two days later reported that Alabama police planned to arrest the demonstrators for breach of the peace at the state line. Eight black protesters, unaffiliated with any organization, were arrested on that charge by Etowah County deputies in Alabama on May 1 after a mile into their walk. That same day, five black and five white protesters from CORE and SNCC restarted Moore's walk in Tennessee. The next day in Georgia, a crowd began to gather as the marchers stopped for lunch. A group of teenagers began questioning the protesters.
"What are you all trying to prove? What do you want" one asked.
"What do I want? I seek a society where people are united, because segregation separates people and we can't have anything where we're separated," replied Winston Lockett, a CORE field secretary.
"Do you think black and white should mix?" another asked.
"It's not whether they're black or white," Lockett replied. "I'm in favor of people mixing."
A third teenager asked: "Why do you Negroes want to go to school with whites?"
"The reason I feel this way about schools is so people can get to know one another."
"You want to cause trouble?"
"I think a person should be judged by his individual worth. Don't you think people should be judged for what they can give to a society?"
Robert Zellner, a SNCC spokesperson, showed the youths a card featuring a photo of two candidates, white and black, running for the student body presidency and vice-presidency of an Illinois high school.
"That's in the North," one replied. "Let it stay in the North."
"Why? What's the difference between the North and the South?"
"The South works. The North don't work."
After the teenagers left, Lockett said to a nearby reporter: "I'm certain that they will think of some of the things I said, maybe not today or tomorrow, but sometime."
Even with police presence during the stop, as another crowd gathered the protesters were met with verbal abuse and one individual tried to start a fight. They received a fiercer and more vicious reception from white counter-demonstrators the following day as they neared Alabama. A group of 50 cars slowed to harass the marchers. "Kill them white men first!" one yelled. FBI agents filmed the proceedings, noting license plate numbers. Getting closer to the state line, the protesters were followed by a group of teenagers, numbering at various points from 20 to 50, who pelted them with rocks and eggs. During a lunch break, a man hit Winston Lockett in the neck, bruising him severely. Lockett immediately dropped to the pavement clutching his neck and the attacker left. Reporters were also kicked, shoved, and threatened as they covered the events.
Hundreds of cars awaited them at the state line, while rocks continued to be thrown. The moment the state line was crossed, the police commissioner gave an arrest order. Over one thousand observers at the roadblock cheered the police while hurling incentives. "Throw them niggers in the river!" one yelled. A woman, with her hair in plastic curlers, screamed, "Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!" Three of the demonstrators, Eric Weinberger, Zev Aelony, and Robert Zellner, fell to the ground in nonviolent resistance. The police used cattle prods to force them to move, giving them repeated electric shocks. An elderly man shouted: "Stick him again!" Another man yelled: "Low white man! A dog and a fox got better sense than you." All ten protesters were arrested and charged with breach of the peace. On May 19, a further eleven demonstrators were arrested on the same charges as they attempted another march following a memorial service for Moore. Among them, Madeleine Sherwood garnered the most attention due to her celebrity as an actress in New York. After being told they were under arrest, she lay down in the grass beside four others and refused to move. After the men were carried to the squad cars, Sgt. R.P. Hooks said to her: "Can't you walk, little lady?" She was then picked up by the arms by two police offers, and dragged with her feet trailing to a squad car. She was later sentenced to six months of hard labor in Gadsden , Alabama. The ten demonstrators arrested on May 3 were convicted and fined $200 plus court costs.
Floyd Simpson, accused of murdering William Moore, was cleared of the charge on September 13, when a grand jury in Etowah County refused to return an indictment.