A Baltimorean who died for civil rights


February 08, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

The death last week of Edward A. Chance, the civil rights activist and former chairman of the Baltimore chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, recalled one of his early challenges.

After succeeding Walter P. Carter as local chairman, Chance had to plan a local memorial service for William Lewis Moore, a 35-year-old white Baltimore postman and civil rights supporter who was shot to death near Attalla, Ala., on April 23, 1963.

Moore, who lived in the 400 block of E. 25th St., was found at night by a passing motorist alongside a lonely stretch of U.S. Highway 11, a two-lane road in rural northeastern Alabama.

The motorist, Willis Elrod, had caught a glimpse of something at the road's edge, so he turned the vehicle around and drove back for a second look. Lying in a roadside picnic area was the body of a man whom he thought was probably the victim of a hit-and-run driver.

Going to a nearby farmer's house for help, Elrod and Harry Sizemore returned to the scene and were greeted by a grisly discovery. Their flashlights illuminated the body of a man who was shoeless and lying face down underneath a walnut tree.

Moore was found with two signs that read: "Eat at Joe's -- Both Black and White," and "Equal Rights for All. Mississippi or Bust."

Upon closer examination, they realized the man had been shot twice, once above the left eyebrow and once in the throat. Police later said the shots were fired from a .22-caliber automatic rifle.

Within a half an hour, police had identified the remains as those of Moore, who was on a one-man freedom march from Chattanooga, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., to deliver a letter to Gov. Ross Barnett demanding an end to segregation.

Before leaving for his journey, Moore spoke with a fellow worker at the post office's Hamilton substation.

"He told me he hoped to awaken the whole world, not only the South, to its racial obligations. He said if the day would ever come when the Negro race gained authority that the Negroes would be kinder to the white races than the whites had been to the Negroes," said Herbert Gardner in an interview with The Evening Sun.

The day before he left Baltimore, Moore sent a letter to President John F. Kennedy: "I am not making this walk to demonstrate either federal or state rights, but individual rights. I'm doing it to illustrate that peaceful protest is not altogether extinguished down there. I hope I will not have to eat those words."

Moore, no stranger to civil rights protests, had two months earlier walked from Baltimore to Annapolis to appeal to Gov. J. Millard Tawes and members of the legislature on behalf of demonstrators who had been arrested during the Northwood Theater protest in Baltimore.

He was born in Binghamton, N.Y., and after the death of his mother, moved to Mississippi where he spent his early years with his grandmother. He was a graduate of Harpur College of the State University of New York and had studied abroad and at Johns Hopkins University.

During World War II, he served as a combat Marine in the Pacific Theater. He later spent several years as a patient in a New York state mental hospital and wrote The Mind in Chains, describing this period of his life.

He later went to work for the post office and had transferred from Binghamton to Baltimore in order to be closer to the anti-segregation movement. His wife, Mary, and their three children were to join him at the end of the school year.

"I don't know why anyone would want to hurt him. He was so kind. He was a crusader for people's rights and freedoms," she said in an Evening Sun interview.

Before beginning his march, Moore mailed a letter, insurance policy and other personal papers to his wife.

"He wrote, `I don't think anything will happen, but I want you to have these,'" she said.

But something must have been going through Moore's mind. Several miles outside of Chattanooga he mailed a letter to Rev. Irving Murry, pastor of the First Unitarian Church in Baltimore.

"I'm feeling quite secure now," he wrote. "But if anything ever happens, I wonder if anybody would ever know. The road is a lonely place."

Moore was buried in Binghamton with full military honors.

His killer was never apprehended, and the case remains open.

In a 1992 interview with the Bergen (N.J.) Record, Moore's widow, who has remarried, expressed the hope "that before I die I'd know who did it. ... They have got to bring justice."

Moore's name is a part of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., which commemorates 40 men, women and children who lost their lives during the struggle for equal rights from 1954 to 1968.

His name joins those of Medgar Evers of Mississippi; Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham; and Virgil Lamar Ware, a 13-year-old who was shot by white teen-agers, as martyrs for freedom who fell during 1963.

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