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William L. Moore – A forgotten advocate for civil rights and mental health issues

January 2020

On 23 April 2010, a memorial plaque was unveiled outside the Greater Binghamton Transportation Center bus terminal in Binghamton, New York, in honour of a mostly forgotten civil rights and mental health advocate who was murdered on that day 47 years prior.

William Lewis Moore, born in Binghamton on 28 April 1927, was a postal worker and member of the Congress of Racial Equality, who achieved a level of notoriety for staging lone protests against racial segregation in an era when few white people supported such causes.

Moore also became an advocate for mental health issues, a result of having been institutionalized for a year and a half after suffering a mental breakdown while a graduate student at John Hopkins University in the early 1950s. He would ultimately be diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

Moore staged lone protests by marching to capital cities on three separate occasions to hand-deliver letters he’d written denouncing the practice of racial segregation. His first march was to Annapolis, the state capital of Maryland, followed by a march to the White House to deliver a letter to President John F. Kennedy, on the same day that Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was released from the jail in Binghamton following protests in that city.

On his last protest march, Moore was planning to walk from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi, to deliver a letter to Governor Ross Barnett, right at the front door of the governor’s mansion.

While on his march, Moore wore a sandwich board that stated, “Equal rights for all & Mississippi or Bust”. Sadly, Moore wouldn’t make it to Jackson.

On 23 April 1963, Moore was found shot to death on U.S. Highway 11, approximately a mile south of Keener Baptist Church, in Attalla, Alabama, less than an hour after being interviewed by WGAD radio reporter Charlie Hicks. He’s been shot twice in the head at close range with a .22 caliber rifle after stopping to rest on a concrete, roadside picnic table.

The gun was owned by a man named Floyd Simpson, a member of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter with whom Moore had argued earlier that day. No charges were ever laid against Simpson, nor any one else.

Moore was a week away from his 36th birthday. He was buried in Vestal Hills Memorial Park in Vestal, New York, near Binghamton University.

In the months after his death, folk-singer Phil Ochs paid tribute to Moore through his song, “William Moore,” as did fellow folk singer Pete Seeger, whose song “William Moore, The Mailman,” appeared on his 1963 album, “Broadside Ballads, Vol 2.”

Seemingly forgotten for decades, Ellen Johnson, then president of the American Atheists, and fellow American Atheists member Ken Loukinen, carried on Moore’s journey by walking the remaining 320 miles from the spot where he was killed to Jackson, Mississippi, from 23 April to 6 May 2008, and along with activist Bob Zellner, attempted to deliver Moore’s original letter to Governor Haley Barbour. He declined to meet with them.

On 14 April 2019, nine days shy of 56 years after his murder, a historical marker was dedicated to Moore at the spot where he was shot; the culmination of the efforts of Southside, Alabama, resident Jerry Smith, a retired Jacksonville State University dean and professor.

Then a high school sophomore, Smith had seen Moore walking along Highway 11 that day back in 1963. For decades, it bothered Smith that there was no marker or any kind of acknowledgement of what happened at that now dismantled rest-stop.

With funding from the Etowah County Commission, along with assistance from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the marker was erected by the Alabama Historical Association.

Sources: https://www.splcenter.org/news/2019/02/05/historical-marker-alongside-alabama-highway-will-honor-civil-rights-martyr-william-lewis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Lewis_Moore, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pete_Seeger_discography, https://gadsdenmessenger.com/2019/04/19/historical-marker-placed-to-mark-civil-rights-activists-local-death-site, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Ochs.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/william-l-moore-a-forgotten-advocate-for-civil-rights-and-mental-health-issues/

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