Stanton, who restored Viola Liuzzo to history in From Selma to Sorrow (1998), offers a moving, well-written portrait of another overlooked civil-rights warrior: mail carrier Bill Moore.
Moore launched a now-forgotten one-man campaign for African-American equality with his own two feet: having previously walked from Baltimore to Washington to hand-deliver a letter to President Kennedy pleading for an end to segregation, he set out from Chattanooga, Tennessee, in April 1963 carrying a signboard reading “Equal Rights for All (Mississippi or Bust).” His plan was to walk along US Highway 11 through lower Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama on to Mississippi, where he intended to deliver another letter to Governor Ross Barnett, appealing for tolerance “as white southerner to white southerner.” Along the way, Stanton writes, Moore met a few more or less enlightened white folks, some of whom shook his hand, some of whom were somewhat sympathetic but nonetheless opposed. (One woman told him, “Look, I’m a Christian and I don’t wish the niggers no harm, but you’re dead wrong about this integration business.”) A few days into his long walk, Moore was shot dead by an Alabama grocer and Klansman who was eventually acquitted of the murder. He was the first civil-rights worker to die in the line of duty, but not the last. Retracing his steps and quoting liberally from the diary he kept, Stanton honors Moore and his brave efforts while examining his troubled life as “an economic failure, a loner, and an atheist in a society which distrusted all three.” (He’d been treated for schizophrenia as well.) She also traces the post-1963 trajectory of Moore’s murderer, who “learned to live with a local reputation of being ‘the man who’d gotten away with murder,’ a dubious distinction which caused him to be admired by some of his neighbors and avoided by others.”
A fine contribution to the literature of the civil-rights movement and to Southern history.