On his July pilgrimage back to his native Mississippi, Thomas Moore got his hopes up. With the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. and the Jackson Free Press documenting his effort, Moore went back to his native Franklin County, and over to Natchez, and up to Jackson and Neshoba County, to ask the good people of Mississippi to support his efforts to finally see justice for the murder of his brother, Charles Eddie Moore, and his friend, Henry Hezekiah Dee, by local white men on May 2, 1964.
Since he returned to Colorado Springs, Moore, 62, has been both elated and let down by the results of his trip. "I still get goose bumps when I think about what all we did," he said on one of his near-weekly calls to check in about the case.
Moore accomplished much on the trip—he got U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton to pledge support for the investigation of this case, as well as that of the murder of Wharlest Jackson Sr. on Feb. 27, 1967, in Natchez. He got more details, and more FBI documents, from District Attorney Ronnie Harper. He found out that one of the primary suspects, James Ford Seale, is still alive and living in the area, as does the other prime suspect, Charles Marcus Edwards. He got a pledge from state religious leaders that they would start a reward fund for information leading to prosecutions in the case, much as they did in the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner case in Neshoba County. He talked with family members of Henry Dee for the first time.
Moore also drew more attention to the case in his home county than it had ever had there—a close-knit community where blacks and whites live in close proximity, but seldom talk about a very rough race history. Even in 1964, after the dismembered bodies were found near Vicksburg, blacks in Franklin County were afraid to talk about the murders of young men they knew—or about the Ku Klux Klan that was terrorizing so many blacks in the area.
"You never heard anyone say anything about civil rights," says Peachie McCoy Morgan, a black native of Roxie who now lives very close to accused murderer James Ford Seale. Morgan attended school with the Moore brothers before packing up and leaving herself in March 1964, when she was 18. She remembers a violent time, especially for young black men who had nothing to do with civil rights activity. "Young men were chased; they didn't want black boys around where white girls were," Morgan says, sitting in her nattily appointed double-wide trailer in Roxie.
Morgan, who moved back from Florida after her husband died, was inspired by Thomas Moore's journey, and wants to help get justice in the case and get her neighbors to speak up and join a local coalition, much as helped get Edgar Ray Killen prosecuted in Neshoba County.
But not everyone agrees. Mary Lou Webb, who has edited the tiny Franklin Advocate newspaper for decades, wrote a short-and-curt editorial the week after Moore's visit. "The editor sees no new evidence—no reason—to put a new generation through painful memories. … Halfway around the world our young people are dying because their young people were not allowed to forgive and forget. Let that not be the legacy we leave our children," Webb wrote.
In response, Moore penned a long-and-elegant letter to the editor. "Your desire and efforts to censor our angry bloody past, remove it from history, misinform and misguide our children, will only fan the small flames of justice I have helped to rekindle throughout Franklin County this summer," he wrote in part. "You see no new evidence because your eyes are closed."
The retired U.S. Army command sergeant major, who served the country 30 years starting the year his brother was killed, also took offense to Webb's reference to the Iraqi War. "The soldiers in Iraq are taking part in what President Bush calls a war on terror. Well, I say we have terrorists still living right here in Franklin County. … The Klan and its supporters were and are as fundamentalist in their beliefs and actions as the suicide bombers we've seen in Iraq. Mary Lou, there is no difference."
The Franklin Advocate has not run Moore's letter.
To show people like Webb that he has not gone home to Colorado to forgive and forget just yet, Moore spent $80 on a permanent memorial sign to replace the temporary one he had erected on his trip home in the spot the two men were last seen alive, a sign that disappeared the night of July 31. A small group gathered a month later, on Aug. 27, to watch Moore's old friend, Arthur "Mac" Littleton, pound the new sign into the ground, as curious Meadville residents slowed down to see what was happening.
"I'm hoping we get a little closure," said Littleton, after he pounded the signpost 10 times with his full strength to ensure that it will stay upright in its spot among muscadine bushes. He attached a little American flag to the top to "make people notice," as he explained. Moore's old friend from high school, Elmo Hickingbottom, was also there. "Anytime you can get justice, it's good," he said.
After Littleton finished erecting the sign, a blond man wearing grubby work clothes and looking a bit like a younger Robert Redford, suddenly walked up. Alan Buckles, 44, owns the gas station just south on Main Street and walked down to see what was up, greeting his friend Littleton as he approached. After standing quiet for a few minutes listening to Littleton, Hickingbottom and Peachie Morgan talk about the need for justice, Buckles said, "If it was my child, I'd want to know."
Buckles then said he was glad he was too young to remember much about the madness of the 1960s. "I'm glad I didn't grow up in that mess," he said. "I'd a seen bad influences. If I had been born just 10 years earlier, just think of the bad influences." He and Littleton then talked back and forth, both of them leaning on Littleton's pick-up.
"You got an open mind now," Littleton said to Buckles. "You know you don't judge a book by its cover. The law made it change."
"Anytime we talk about it, it helps," Buckles said.
At the end of the chat, Littleton returned the topic to Thomas Moore, the soldier who wasn't present for this particular battle. "He shut down for about 30 years, but he's fired up now," Littleton said about the man who brought them to this place. As the group broke up, Buckles took a stack of the July 21, 2005, Jackson Free Press with Moore's face on the cover and walked back to his gas station.
Read the full versions of the Franklin Advocate and Moore's response. You can also donate online to a fund to buy new headstones for Charles Moore and Henry Dee.
Read the JFP's full package of stories about the Klan and their victims in and around Natchez and Meadville, Miss., in the 1960s:
I Want Justice, Too: Thomas Moore's Story, July 21, 2005
A Dream Deferred, July 27, 2005
Franklin Advocate Editorial and Thomas Moore Response, July 28, 2005
Evolution of a Man: Lifting the Hood in South Mississippi, Oct. 26, 2005
Daddy, Get Up: This Son of Natchez Wants Justice, Too, Oct. 26, 2005
Dear Meadville: Thomas Moore Tries to Wake Up His Hometown, Oct. 26, 2005
Editor's Note: Damned If We Don't, Oct. 26, 2005
Also see: JFP Blog: Mississippi v. Edgar Ray Killen, June 2005
Donna, God bless you, you are my heroine.
and the congregation said, Amen. Donna, your articles today have again broadened my perspective and educated me of our history....a history that must be broadcast all over and included in our education curriculums. Thanks for your wonderful work.