(March 9, 1931 – March 11, 2010)
Charles Moore didn't plan to photograph the civil rights movement. In September, 1958, he was a 27-year-old photographer for the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser. When an argument broke out between the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and two policemen, Moore was the only photographer on the scene. His striking pictures of Dr. King's arrest were distributed nationwide by the Associated Press, and one was published in Life magazine. A new career had begun.
Over the next seven years, Moore made some of the most significant pictures of the civil rights movement. As a contract photographer for Life magazine, Moore traveled the South to cover the evolving struggle. His photographs helped bring the reality of the situation to the magazine's huge audience, which at the time comprised over half the adults in the United States. According to former U.S. Senator Jacob Javits, Moore's pictures "helped to spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Some of the major events that Moore covered: the early efforts of Dr. King to desegregate Montgomery, Alabama (1958-60); the violent reaction to the enrollment of James Meredith as the first black student at the University of Mississippi (1962); the Freedom March from Tennessee to Mississippi (1963); the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama (1963); voter registration drives in Mississippi (1963-1964); Ku Klux Klan activities in North Carolina (1965); and the march from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama (1965). Pictures from each of these events are included on this site.
Moore also photographed the civil war in the Dominican Republic, political violence in Venezuela and Haiti, and the Vietnam conflict. His editorial and travel photography has appeared in major magazines in the United States, Europe, Japan, and South America. Moore has received many awards for corporate/industrial photography, as well as travel and calendar work. He is well-known for location photography of celebrities, including actors, dancers, and musicians.
In 1989, Charles Moore received the first Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism. With Kodak's support, Moore has lectured and presented his work at universities and photography workshops around the country. His work has been exhibited at many museums and other institutions. Moore is represented by the New York photo agency Black Star; his art prints are sold through the Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York City. All of Moore's black-and-white photographs are made on 35-mm Kodak Tri-X Pan film.
The accompanying photos, and many more, appear in Powerful Days, The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1991). A new edition of The Motherlode, Moore's book about California's gold-rush country, will be published by Chronicle Books this Spring. Charles Moore now lives in Shelburne Falls, Mass.
Charles Moore web Site / http://www.viscom.ohiou.edu/moore.site/Pages/Moore.html
By John Kaplan / University of Florida
On September 3, 1958, Charles Moore, a young photographer for the Montgomery Advertiser, witnessed an argument between the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and two policeman on the steps of the City Recorders’ Court. Moore's good fortune that day was in stark contrast with King's. Moore was the only member of the media to witness King's subsequent arrest, and his picture of the local minister being manhandled during the police booking became one of the most significant photographs of the civil rights movement.(1) King was taken to the back of the jail where he was frisked, roughed-up and tossed into a cell.(2)
When Life picked up the picture from the Associated Press wire on September 15, it would be the first of Moore's celebrated civil rights photos to be published in the magazine. By 1965, the photographer would grow weary of years of violence--of hatred, street battles and the searing taste of tear gas--having witnessed many of the most significant events of the era. After documenting the fighting surrounding James Meredith's bloody admission to the University of Mississippi, the dogs being turned on protesters in Birmingham and the savagery of the civil rights march at Selma, Moore booked an around-the-world ticket on Pan Am in 1965 and would not return home for eight months.(3)
Through the work of Moore and other heralded photographers such as Flip Schulke, Moneta Sleet and Gordon Parks, Life, along with King's savvy in spreading his message throughout the media, is credited with giving national prominence to what had until the mid-1950s been a regional story.(4) During the 1950s and 1960s the weekly Life was the nation's most influential media outlet, reaching more citizens than any television program and read by more than half the adult population of the United States.(5)
Although many letters to the editor protested Life's so-called liberal bias in covering civil rights, the magazine also was criticized for its conservatism.(6) When it published eleven pages of Moore's graphic photos of rioting in Birmingham, Alabama, in May 1963, it described the movement as a "crusade" and used sympathetic headlines such as "The Dogs' Attack is Negroes' Reward." However, the same article criticized King's non-violent but provocative actions.
The pictures on these eleven pages are frightening. They are frightening because of the brutal methods being used by white policemen in Birmingham, Ala. against Negro demonstrators. They are frightening because the Negro strategy of "nonviolent direct action" invites that very brutality--and welcomes it as a way to promote the Negroes' cause, which, under the law, is right
Indeed, the article quoted no blacks at all and followed with a sidebar story interviewing sixteen Birmingham whites.(8) In the introduction to the interviews, Life stated, "The Negroes of Birmingham know what they want and how they want to get it. The white people of the city, shaken by recent events, are perplexed about what to do." Moore felt that the magazine’s only bias was in its zeal to right the wrongs of desegregation. Despite being a southern, white male he was sickened by the injustice that he witnessed while covering the civil rights movement.(9)
In his 1964 book about the violence in Birmingham, Why We Can't Wait, King's comments illuminate the drama contained in Moore's photos and the power of the national media, of which Life was most influential. " The brutality . . . was caught, as a fugitive from a penitentiary is often caught, in gigantic circling spotlights. It was imprisoned in a luminous glare revealing the naked truth to the whole world."(10)
Like King, Moore was the son of a Baptist minister. The photographer was reared in Tuscumbia, Alabama,(11) living in a working class community as "a real tough little kid who grew up in a community of tough kids."(12) His father would invite Charles and his brother, Jim, along as he was sometimes invited to preach in the normally segregated black churches nearby. Although he knew few blacks growing up, he remembers that a kind man once walked him home when he became lost and wandered into a "colored town" when he was six.(13) He credits his father's insistence that no racial epithets be uttered in the family's house for his own tolerance. "Although my Dad had few black friends, he told us never to use the 'n' word," Moore said.(14)
Moore had not set out to be a news photographer. After a stint in the Marine Corps and training in fashion photography at the Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California, he returned home to Alabama in 1957 and settled for a job photographing in an Olan Mills portrait studio. Although the industrious Moore was soon offered a job as regional manager for the studio chain, he went to Montgomery to see the local newspaper's chief photographer, Joe Holloway. As the first of Moore's photographic mentors, Holloway was impressed with the twenty-six-year-old's knowledge of a Rolleiflex camera and ability to build a rapport with models on the site of a fashion shoot.
When he began working at the paper in 1957, Moore had no knowledge of the national story that had occurred in Montgomery just a year before; Rosa Parks, a local seamstress, had refused to ride in the back of a city bus, as was the rule in the South, touching off a massive boycott. "To be honest, I was a young kid. I didn't know what was going on in the world. I had no interest. My head was into camping, wildlife and fashion. I wanted to photograph beauty," Moore said.(15) He had no idea that his pictures would do far more than help publicize King's efforts; they also would lead to national outrage culminating in President Johnson's signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By that time, Moore's dramatic Life photos were given credit for helping to influence the legislation's passage.(16)
King's Arrest: Fueling the movement
Before King's arrest on the courthouse steps, Moore had met him briefly on a routine assignment at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church just a few blocks from the paper. As a typical southern newspaper of its time, the Advertiser relegated "Negro News" to a separate section. Still, the paper did not ignore the growing national prominence of its local minister,(17) and Moore soon began to realize the importance of the role he was playing.(18)
When I met Dr. King, I was just at the beginning of my career. I never knew black people on a personal level because there was segregation. I had been to his church meetings and didn't have to go to many to be absolutely fascinated by this man. When I went down to meet him, I photographed him at the pulpit with a cross behind his head. I got down low to get the power of this man. I have to say, 'Yeah, I was on my knees to King.' I became fascinated [by the] power of his oratory. From then on I wanted to cover him. I wanted every assignment I could get.(19)
In September 1958, King attempted to enter a crowded courtroom for a hearing involving his fellow pastor and key aide, Ralph Abernathy. Moore had heard that King might be there and on his own initiative decided to drop by. "The police were telling him he couldn't go in and were giving him a hard time. He said, 'I'll just stay here' [on the courthouse steps] and refused to leave," Moore said.(20)
The two inexperienced officers suddenly decided to arrest King, unaware of who he was. His wife, Coretta, protested but was told, "Just nod your head and you'll go to jail, too."(21) Although King was not being pushed, one officer twisted the minister's arm as the three walked a block and a half to the police booking area. "I saw an opening on the other side of the counter. I ran there real quickly. Nobody stopped me, and I quickly took a few frames from behind the counter,"(22) Moore said.
When the picture went out on the wire, two Life staffers appeared in town on the next day, photographer, Gray Villete and Dick Stolley, who later became managing editor. “They got in touch with me and I had them to my home for dinner. It was my first time with Life magazine people."(23)
At the time, Moore did not understand the significance of his picture, but many others did. During the next two days, the national press corps poured into town. Rather than pay a fine for loitering, King was intent on serving his fourteen-day sentence in jail. To diffuse further publicity, Police Commissioner Clyde Sellers released him, saying that he was merely saving the taxpayers money by paying King's $10 fine.(24) "King was a master at using the media. The significance was that the whole world was aware that Martin Luther King had been put in jail," Moore later realized.(25)
When the picture was published in Life twelve days later, Moore was pleased but wished the magazine could have published his eight-picture sequence of the incident instead of just a single photo. Once before, Life had published a full-page fire picture of Moore's, but its editors did not choose to give prominent play to King's arrest. The photograph occupied one-sixth of a page and was used with three other pictures accompanying a story about "mostly quiet" civil rights integration.(26) Stories given far more dominant play in the same issue included “Chinese ‘Reds’ impose a blockade on Quemoy” and an article about fixing charges on television quiz shows. A prominent story on race riots in Britain also dwarfed the coverage of unrest at home.(27)
Even with the understated play in Life, the photo's publication in the influential magazine triggered further outrage and a rush of financial aid for King's Montgomery Improvement Association. Although he had once been asked to appear on television’s Meet the Press, King was now even better known on a national level; his influence would soon grow to a fevered pitch. By the next time that King would be photographed by Moore during an arrest, the photographer would be on assignment for Life.
“Ole Miss”: Moore makes his mark as a freelancer
By 1962, Moore had been his newspaper's chief photographer for four years after Holloway had moved on to a career at AP. He was ready for a change and decided to take a room in the French Quarter of New Orleans for a ten-day shooting vacation. He met a woman on the street who turned out to be the wife of local district attorney Jim Garrison, who would later rise to prominence with his controversial views on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Garrison helped Moore gain access to the late night world of jazz bars, musicians and strippers, subjects that were otherwise off-limits to outsiders. "When I got back to the paper, I knew I wanted to travel more and reach out to a new audience,"(28) Moore said. He gave two-weeks notice and moved to New York anticipating a lucrative freelance career.
"It didn't work. I spent three months and was hanging out in the West Village. I hated New York and my money was going."(29) Before heading back to Alabama, Moore befriended Milt Freir, a representative from Leica, who urged him to go see Howard Chapnick, the influential founder of the Black Star picture agency. In his book, Truth Needs No Ally, Chapnick described Moore as disenchanted. "He had come to New York to make his way into photojournalism and after three months had found a cold, unyielding and professionally unrewarding city."(30)
Chapnick decided to give Moore a small weekly guarantee. "We talked and Howard liked the idea I was giving up New York. 'I think you can do some really good work down there,' he told me," Moore remembers.(31) Chapnick would later credit Moore with documenting the important events that defined the movement.
Rather than encourage Charles Moore to stay in New York to pursue his career, I told him I felt one of the great stories in American history was unfolding in the South. He came from the South and understood it. Going back to Alabama to document the events taking place there would provide the chance for Charles to do work he was uniquely qualified for.(32)
Still, upon his return to Montgomery, Moore faced another two months of frustration. He missed the newspaper and had little to do.(33) “I felt like a stranger in hell back in Montgomery. I was struggling,"(34) he said. But Moore had a sudden turn of luck in September when he ran into Life's Miami Bureau Chief, Dick Billings, in Oxford, Mississippi.
Black student James Meredith had attempted to register at the University of Mississippi and the state's defiant Governor, Ross Barnett, ignored a federal court order by declaring himself the university's emergency registrar, and personally and physically barred Meredith.(35) The Governor was seen as a folk hero in his state and hated what he considered Life’s liberal bias, refusing to be photographed or interviewed. Moore's contacts from five years of covering state government paid off as he assured Billings that he could get a picture.
After being granted exclusive access to photograph Barnett, Moore says that he did not dare mention the word "Life." Billings was thrilled with the pictures. “After today, you're working for us,”(36) he was told. At the time, a mob of more than 2,000 was descending on the college town, intent on blocking Meredith at any cost.
Moore’s ascension to the ranks of Life photographers could not have come at a more dangerous time. U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy sent 200 federal marshals to protect Meredith, and each other. Several other Life shooters were on the scene, some with combat experience. With two days to go before federal marshals would attempt to escort Meredith to his first class, Moore knew that it would be a violent weekend.
Word got out that he was working for the magazine. A pack of enraged white students shoved their way into Moore’s hotel room, shouting and cursing. One began to choke him before the former Golden Gloves boxer pushed him away. “I’ve never seen such hate in anyone’s face before. It was like I were vermin. . . . To him I was worse than ‘a nigger,’ I was a white nigger. And worse than that I was a white Life magazine nigger.” (37)
On the street, the mob waved confederate flags. Some even loaded guns as they waited for Meredith’s arrival, not knowing he had already been hidden at a campus dormitory. Local lawmen, urged on by the Governor, were defiant of the federal authorities as well, intent on preventing the enrollment of the first black student there. One of Moore’s most chilling photographs showed local, plain-clothed policemen chuckling while one practiced a swing with a billy club before the start of the inevitable rioting. “They were talking about what they’re going to do to the U.S. Marshals, laughing and showing how they would take care of them,”(38) Moore said.
Moore had to make some quick decisions. The local police had blocked the campus, forbidding the press to enter. Readily identifiable as a news photographer, he was threatened again. “I was told, ‘You nigger lovers had better go home’ . . . and that this guy and his brother were out with their shotguns looking for me.”(39)
After buying a gas mask at a local Army and Navy store, Moore sneaked onto the campus with the help of a brave student that he remembers only as ‘John.’ The student drove a VW beetle, and Moore stashed his cameras in the vehicle’s trunk. “The cops searched the car but didn’t search the trunk, which was up front. That’s how I got in,”(40) he said.
It was Sunday evening and as darkness fell, the rioting began. The mob had surrounded the school’s administration building, the Lyceum, and started slashing tires and throwing rocks. Soon, it was a siege. Earlier, Moore had decided to bluff his way into the building, where 200 unarmed marshals were holed-up. Accompanied by a freelance writer who also was working for Life, Moore banged on the door, telling the guard that he was desperately ill and had to go to the toilet. The ruse worked, and the two were forgotten about in the ensuing chaos.(41) Outside, cars were set on fire and when a lead pipe knocked a marshal unconscious, the lawmen began to fire tear gas at the mob. Moore darted outside for a short time and ducked behind a jeep as a shotgun blast from the crowd wounded an AP reporter. “If you stayed outside and used a flash, you would die. Molotov cocktails were being thrown all over,”(42) he said.
It was no safer inside. As soon as marshals fired the gas into the crowd, it would drift back inside, filling the building. Moore wore a gas mask through the evening as he photographed the wounded marshals, several shot and bleeding. After hearing about the melee, President Kennedy decided to send in federal troops but they did not arrive until the next day. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach was trapped inside the building, and Moore overheard him pleading on the telephone with Bobby Kennedy
‘They’ve got guns out there, Bobby, they’ve got guns. Our men are being shot . . . .’(43) He was trying to convince Kennedy to let them have weapons to protect themselves and Kennedy said no. They had billy clubs, that’s all. The marshals were shooting tear gas to keep the crowd from rushing them. They [the crowd] even stole a bulldozer and were attacking the building with it.(44)
When it was over, twenty-eight marshals had been shot and 160 were injured. Moore had been the only photographer inside and had exclusive shots of the wounded. Later, he learned that a French reporter and a local repairman had been killed in the night-long battle. “We put our lives on the line. I was just sitting on a trash can in front of the building, surrounded by smashed TV cameras and tear gas canisters. We were totally wiped out,”(45) Moore said.
The magazine’s reporters and Moore were ordered to rest up in a Memphis hotel room. One of the correspondents made up a mock press card, called a ‘SCREW’ card, standing for “Southern Correspondents Reporting Equality Wars.” For his bravery, Moore was issued the first one. “I’m real proud of that because I have card ‘#1,’” (46) he said. He received a phone call from Black Star telling him that Life was overwhelmed with his work. For the next three years he would earn a reputation as the photographer most able to gain uncanny access to the front lines of the civil rights cause.
A thirteen-page layout in the October 12 issue was dominated by Moore’s work. But some of the letters to the editor that were published on October 26 and November 2 were critical of both the magazine and the federal involvement in the university’s affairs. One letter complained about stereotyping when the magazine wrote, “A blood-covered red-neck is propelled in the door, guided by two angry marshals.”(47) Carolyn P. Nemrow, of Boston, wrote, “President Kennedy has enough of the nation’s journalistic sheep jumping to give its condemnation of Ole Miss Affairs. When will people realize that the issue is not Meredith, it is state sovereignty versus ever-growing federal intervention?”(48)
Birmingham: Of barking dogs and walls of water
Moore soon moved to Miami, and after considering a job with the Miami Herald, was promised steady work with Life by Billings. He was often teamed with reporter Michael Durham and in April 1963, the two were assigned to cover rising tensions in Mississippi and Alabama. After William Moore, a mailman, was shot and killed while walking to protest segregation, Moore photographed protesters along The Freedom March that followed a path through three states.(49)
At nearly the same time, King was arrested for organizing protests by school children and from jail would write his famous treatise outlining his philosophy of civil disobedience.(50) Although a state injunction had been issued against King’s protests, he responded by saying, “We’ve got an injunction from heaven.”(51) Moore had a strong picture of King and Abernathy walking toward their inevitable arrest along with a series from the march. However, neither was published in the magazine. One of the biggest American news stories of the century, The Bay of Pigs, the failed U.S. led attack on Cuba, pushed civil rights out of the pages of Life for a short time.
The most influential pictures of Moore’s career were taken over five days beginning on May 3. Birmingham was considered the nation’s most segregated city, and the photographer had a hunch that he and Durham should go to the city after hearing reports on the radio about escalating tensions there.(52) Five minutes after the journalists arrived in Kelly Ingram Park, the scene of anti-segregation demonstrations, firemen had been ordered by Police Commissioner Bull Connor to bring out their hoses to contain the swelling crowd.
Moore crawled on the pavement and took a position between the firemen and the protesters, who were getting pummeled by a virtual wall of water. The scene disgusted Moore but he felt a responsibility to keep shooting. One of the firemen told him later, “We’re supposed to fight fires, not people.”(53)
One of Moore’s most remarkable photographs showed three students forced against a brick wall by a fierce spray of water propelled at 100 pounds per square inch. Fourteen-year-old Carolyn McKinstry was unaware at the time that she was being photographed. “After getting hit with the hose, that was the last thing on my mind. Dr. King had had motivational meetings with us. He had never mentioned the water hose but said there might be dogs and they might even spit on you,”(54) she said in a 1998 interview.
When she saw her picture in Life two weeks after the demonstrations, McKinstry had no special feeling about seeing herself in a national magazine, saying that she was still fearful and angry from the experience. However, a teenager at the time, she did remember being displeased at seeing her hair in disarray. Later, she would become appreciative of the sensitivity in Moore’s graphic photographs. Before the Birmingham unrest, “the black community had lost any trust that there could be a fair portrayal by the photographers. We were always portrayed in a negative light.”(55)
The protests continued for five days as King urged the demonstrators, many of them children, to return to the park. Some of the scores of angry onlookers were not schooled in the preacher’s philosophy of passive resistance; Moore was struck in the ankle by a large chunk of concrete. Despite searing pain and an injury to his tendons, he continued to work for the next three days after treatment by a black doctor. “He did that story half-crippled,”(56) said Durham.
When the demonstrations did not abate, Connor ordered police dogs into the crowd and urged the officers to allow whites to view the demonstrations. “I want them to see the dogs work,”(57) he said. Along with the fire hose images, the pictures of dogs snarling and ripping at the pants of protesters would be among the most dramatic of Moore’s career. Despite knowing that he was making meaningful photographs, Moore felt revulsion. “Attack dogs--that was repulsive,”(58) he said.
As the demonstrations spread, Moore and Durham disobeyed a police order not to go outside the park and were arrested as they attempted to document a woman being knocked down by the water from the hoses. Locked up in a cell for four hours with Durham and about a dozen menacing white men, Moore, known as a fearless photographer, faced one of the most frightening experiences of his career. “We could have been beaten very badly if they would have known we were from Life.”(59) Another reporter from the magazine bailed them out. Facing the possibility of a six-month jail term in an unsympathetic city, Life’s lawyers advised Moore and Durham to leave town immediately and fly to New York. The charges were later dropped but for a year, Moore was a fugitive from justice in his own state, having to sneak home once to see his children in Dothan.
At Life, Moore was given the rare opportunity to supervise the eleven-page layout, and the magazine’s editors decided to give him his first byline. His photos inspired seven letters which were published in the June 7 issue--three critical and four sympathetic to the civil rights cause. Francis Pharr Jones, of Austin, Texas, wrote, “We assume the guilt of the white supremacist when we allow this persecution. . . . I shall never forget those tragic faces.” Grady Franklin, of Crawfordsville, Indiana, wrote, “Charles Moore’s photographs on the racial troubles in Birmingham were superb and bone-chilling--surely a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize in news photography.”(60)
The dog attack and fire hose pictures have been among the best-selling of all time at Black Star, reprinted time and again in books and magazines. Picture editor Yukiko Launois recalled that there were many photographers working in the South at the time, but “I remember Charles’ photos, particularly of Birmingham, as the most memorable and distinguished.” Several others also had photographed the violent confrontation between police dogs and protesters. “Somehow, Charles’ image was better. Only Charles’ became a classic. From the beginning, Charles Moore was identified with that image.”(61)
Politicians noticed as well. John F. Kennedy said that the situation in Birmingham had sickened him and mentioned the riots there in a speech the next month in which he asked Congress to initiate civil rights legislation.(62) Militant black leader Malcolm X mentioned the dog attacks in a speech that he gave in Africa.(63) Senator Jacob Javits of New York later credited Moore’s Birmingham photographs with helping to quicken passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.(64) Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. later said that his police dog photographs transformed the national mood and made the legislation not just necessary, but possible.(65) A year after Moore’s classic photos were first published in Life, King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Even artist Andy Warhol noticed Moore’s best-known photo of a snarling dog reared up on its hind legs while another bit the buttocks of a protester. One morning in 1964, Chapnick and his wife, Jeanette, were eating breakfast when the Black Star chief noticed a Time magazine article about Warhol’s latest work. Chapnick immediately recognized that one of the featured paintings, Red Race Riot, was a slightly altered silkscreen of Moore’s photograph. “Howard has eagle eyes. He might not remember what he had for breakfast but never forgets a picture,” (66) said his wife.
The painting was a clear copyright violation without credit to either Moore or the agency. Chapnick insisted that Moore go personally to Warhol’s studio to confront him. Not comfortable with negotiating with the flamboyant artist and his assistant, Moore settled for two flower prints and Warhol’s promise that he would be credited whenever the painting was reproduced. Later it was found that the flower series had itself been appropriated from a photograph in a Burpee seed catalog.(67) In the years to come, Warhol failed to follow through on his promise of crediting the photograph, and both Black Star and Moore sold their flower prints soon after obtaining them. The Warhol watercolor was not considered an appropriate match for the famous news photos adorning the walls at Black Star. “It had no place hanging with the photography. We sold it and had a lot of trouble getting rid of it. I think we got $250 for it,”(68) said Jeanette Chapnick.
Staying safe: “You have to know when to duck and when to shoot.”
Moore and Durham traveled together frequently through the South covering the dangerous skirmishes that defined the black struggle for equality. When they first met in a Tennessee airport to cover the 1963 Freedom March, Life’s editors had thought it wise to team a southerner with a northerner. Moore’s Alabama drawl blended-in but when he heard Durham’s Yankee accent, the reporter recalled Moore’s first words to him. “’At least you look like a redneck. But when we’re together, don’t say anything.’ That’s a funny thing to say to a reporter, but it was definitely good advice. It was best the rednecks didn’t know who you were in those years,” (69) Durham said.
The two quickly became friends and looked out for each other during the many urban battles they covered. In order not to miss crucial pictures during fast-breaking riots, a system was worked out where Moore would run backwards at full speed as he photographed, led by the collar through the crowd by Durham.
Chapnick told Moore that he could not believe that in Birmingham, the photographer’s longest telephoto lens was a modest 100 millimeters. Often, the reporter would help out by carrying a lens or even Moore’s camera bag during tense events. In June 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi, a riot broke out as the two covered the funeral of Medgar Evers, the first black civil rights leader to be assassinated.(70) Durham remembers the event as the only time that the usually kind and soft-spoken Moore ever spoke harshly to him.
It was in the heat of action. He turned and said to me, ‘Give me the lens!’ ‘What do you mean, ‘give me the lens?’ I replied. He said, ‘I gave it to you.’ I said, ‘No, you did not.’ We went back down the street and saw a red-haired kid standing there holding the lens. Charles asked him, ‘How did you get the lens?’ This kid turned and said to Charles, ‘You told me, Here. Hold this.’ All the time Charles thought it was me.
In June 1964, Moore and Durham were assigned to cover the disappearance of three white Northern college students who came to the South to help register black voters. After being jailed in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the three vanished shortly after their release. Later they were found murdered, and the Life team found themselves working in their most hostile environment yet.
“All the journalists will tell you that Philadelphia, Mississippi, was the most frightening place of all,”(71) Moore said. Because they had rented a car and taken a hotel room, word spread quickly among townspeople that outsider reporters were there to cover the murders. As Moore photographed the search for the bodies, a local man tried to knock a camera out of his hand. “As we were driving the back roads, our bumper got bumped.” For protection, “in the motel, we put a chair in front of the door.” (72)
The local sheriff, Charles Rainey, told Moore and Durham to get out of town. “You take my goddamn picture, you’ll go to jail or worse,”(73) he told Moore. Still, the two persisted and remained in town when Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price were brought to court in connection with the murders.
“Sheriff Lawrence Rainey was a meanie. That guy was scary. I believe they were out there that night in the woods. I don’t know if he [Rainey] pulled the trigger. Imagine the horrible things they did,”(74) Moore said. Price and six others, most of them members of the Ku Klux Klan, were later found guilty of conspiracy in depriving the victims of their civil rights. Rainey was acquitted of the charges.(75)
Despite being threatened on countless occasions, Moore was never beaten but once after a sit-in in Jacksonville, Florida, he was rescued by a passing television reporter as an angry mob of black teenagers chased him. In eight years of covering the movement, he found it ironic “that it was blacks who attacked us.”(76) After a bomb threat had been called in, other journalists had evacuated the scene. Moore and Durham were the only ones left as the situation worsened. “They were angry with the police. They were high school kids throwing stones. They turned over our rental car and burned it. We were running away. My 100 millimeter lens was shattered. It was covering my face,”(77) Moore remembers.
Durham was not as lucky as the youths caught and beat him; the magazine ran a two-page article explaining what it was like to be beaten by a mob with a picture of the bandaged reporter in the hospital. He said later that if he had not found himself separated from Moore as the two ran for safety, he probably would have avoided injury.(78) “Good photojournalists are lucky. Charles had the luck,” Durham said.(79) Moore described himself as being like one of the careful photographers who lives through wars.” He credits veteran combat photographer Horst Faas with the philosophy that helped him escape injury while covering civil rights: “You have to know when to duck and when to shoot. Or you’ll die.”(80)
Missed opportunities: “You just couldn’t let it bother you.”
Moore and Durham were sent on many assignments that never made the magazine. According to Moore, during the 1960s Life covered five stories every single week around the world for every one that got in the magazine.(81) Constantly on the road, he often would not know if his pictures had been published until picking up the magazine on the newsstand. Durham said that he knew that Life was not interested in an abundance of text but he took pleasure in photographers such as Moore getting their stories in.(82)
When their work was ignored, the two took consolation in knowing that they were witness to what they believed was an important chain of events. Not getting published “happened so often you just couldn’t let it bother you. It was the main drawback. If it was The Bay of Pigs you could accept it. But often it would be a story of less import,”(83) that would bump civil rights coverage out of the magazine, Durham said.
On August 28, 1963, between 200,000 and 500,000 people gathered for the largest political demonstration in U.S. history to hear Martin Luther King, Charlton Heston, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sidney Poitier and others argue for equal rights.(84) Life’s editors thought there might be trouble. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover had lobbied to try to have the Kennedy administration scuttle the march, believing that King was a communist. However, Kennedy was determined that his Civil Rights Bill could only be helped by such a large demonstration of both black and white supporters.(85)
“They always liked to put me out where there might be some trouble,” Moore said. He was assigned to shoot the crowd in the reflecting pool area near the Washington Monument. But the rally turned out to be a peaceful one as King delivered his epic “I Have A Dream” speech. Although none of Moore’s photos were published, the official memento of the march was a portfolio of five red, white and blue collages of Life magazine photographs that included the dog and fire hose images from Birmingham. Forty thousand were sold to the assembled crowd for one dollar each.(86)
Selma: Atrocities on a ‘Bloody Sunday’
Moore’s first Life cover was of the March 7, 1965, face-off between Alabama state troopers and a mass of marchers demonstrating for voting rights. King had gone to Selma to direct a registration drive in a county where only three percent of blacks had registered to vote, so great was the intimidation there.(87) Governor George Wallace said that he would not tolerate such a march and had about 100 state troopers ready to block the Edmund Pettus Bridge.(88)
Moore and dozens of other newsmen were witnesses as the troopers warned the group that it had two minutes to retreat back to the local Episcopal church. But only a minute later, the guardsmen were told to attack.(89) Moore’s photographs depicted the savagery as troopers, some wearing gas masks, battered the demonstrators to the ground with billy clubs. More than sixty marchers were badly injured. One suffered a fractured skull. The incident became known as “Bloody Sunday.”
ABC interrupted its broadcast of the holocaust film, Judgment in Nuremberg, to report live on the beatings. In Congress, more than fifty speeches were delivered deploring the brutality.(90) Life’s coverage reflected the outrage of the nation-at-large. Besides the cover, the March 19 issue displayed several pages dominated by Moore’s work, including full-page portraits of troopers and the injured.(91)
On April 2, it published five letters that were overwhelmingly critical of the troopers’ violence. Mrs. M. M. Warsaw, of Braintree, Massachusetts, wrote of one of Moore’s photos, “I wonder if the Selma policeman pictured on page 37 of your current issue would have the same defiant attitude and belligerence if he was brought face to face with the Negro Marines bravely going ashore at Da Nang, South Vietnam?” Julie G. Saunders of South Hadley, Massachusetts, wrote, “The whole tragedy greatly upset me, but not until reading your article have I cried about it. After reading your article I see that it is necessary that I become physically involved. . . . Even though I am safe and secure in this Northern school, . . . I am not free until they are.”
After many years on the bloody front lines of the civil rights movement, Moore had seen enough. “I had been involved in so much ugliness and I realized that I needed to do something else.”(92) Turning his attention toward other types of assignments after the brutal Selma beatings, in years to come he would photograph travel stories, do corporate portraiture, and occasionally return to doing hard news for a variety of publications. After Moore became determined to get away from covering violence, Life’s editors later convinced him to cover the Vietnam war for two months including a photography essay for the magazine on B-52 air raids.(93)
Despite covering most of the major civil rights stories of the era, Moore missed the biggest one of all. When King was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968, he was in Palo Alto, California doing a sex education assignment for the Saturday Evening Post. “We had on the radio and heard the flash. I just pulled the car over to the side, listened to the news and cried. After all I’d done, I felt bad I couldn’t be there on that day in Memphis in 1968. I knew him and he knew me.”(94)
Howard Chapnick passed away shortly after his 1994 book, Truth Needs No Ally, was published. Of Moore’s work he wrote, “The lesson here for aspiring photojournalists is that one has to recognize great turning points in social history, to seize the opportunity to bear witness to them, and to remember that what is in your backyard may be the stepping stone to your success.”(95) His wife, Jeanette Chapnick, was Black Star’s bookkeeper for several decades and continues Chapnick’s work on behalf of documentary photography as a trustee of the W. Eugene Smith grant program and the Howard Chapnick Grant for the advancement of photojournalism.
Carolyn McKinstry met Charles Moore more than two decades after he took his famous photo depicting her getting sprayed by a fireman’s hose in Birmingham, when both appeared on a television special about the events there. McKinstry also has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show and played herself in a recent Spike Lee film about four of her friends who were killed in a church bombing just months after the Birmingham riots. She frequently lectures at schools about the civil rights movement and works as an informational technology trainer for Bell South. Of Birmingham, where she still lives, McKinstry says, “It’s become a really nice place to live.”(96)
Michael Durham had the opportunity to hire Charles Moore for several freelance assignments when he later became editor of a magazine published by American Heritage. The two also collaborated on other topics for Life besides civil rights coverage. He wrote the text for Moore’s 1991 book, Powerful Days, The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore. While doing the editing for the book, Durham says, “It was amazing to go back through all those old contact sheets. It was like reliving things.” Now doing freelance writing and living in Delancey, New York, he remembers the heady days of covering civil rights. “Every once in awhile I think it would be great to rush off to the airport.”(97)
Charles Moore is a freelance photographer based in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. He is a frequent lecturer about the civil rights era at universities and workshops. In 1965, after vowing to get away from the violence, Moore had one other Life cover about the staging of the musical, Hello Dolly, for troops in Vietnam. He has preferred to continue freelancing throughout his career rather than seek to join the staff of Life full time. Moore continues to be represented by Black Star and has had more than 100 covers for a variety of magazines including the Saturday Evening Post and Newsweek. In 1989, Howard Chapnick decided to enter Moore’s work in the first annual Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism, regarded as one of the most prestigious honors in the industry. Moore was named the winner and the resulting publicity sparked renewed interest in his landmark work from the civil rights movement. In the forward to Moore’s 1991 book, Powerful Days, The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore, Andrew Young, the civil rights leader and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote, “The photographs of Charles Moore presented in this brilliant chronicle offer more than simple, visual accounts of the civil rights years. . . . For those of us who remember the pictured events from personal experience, this book is a means by which to sharpen memories, to relive and revisit some of the most meaningful, terrifying and rewarding moments of our lives.”(98)
By John Kaplan / University of Florida