In Memoriam: Charles Moore
By LIZ HAGER
Pictures can and do make a difference. Strong images of historical events do have an impact on society. —Charles Moore.
Charles Moore was always in the “middle of the scrum,” as journalist Hank Klibanoff once observed, often risking his own personal safety to document the Civil Rights movement. Moore died Thursday at age 79. He left behind a body of work that testifies to potential that the camera has to be both objective recorder and subjective persuader.
Moore didn’t set out to photograph the civil rights movement. In September, 1958, as a 27-year-old photographer for the Montgomery (Alabama) Advertiser, he was the only photographer on the scene when an argument broke out between the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and two policemen. His pictures of the police manhandling Dr. King during his arrest were compelling for their irony; the foremost advocate of non-violence is being roughed up like a petty criminal. The pictures were distributed nationwide by the Associated Press. Life magazine published one of them and quickly put Moore under contract.
Moore documented James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi on October 1, 1962. He captured the “facts”—Meredith’s arrival and enrollment, the bloody student rioting in response to the first African American at “Ole Miss,” and the presence of the several thousand US troops sent by President Kennedy to quell the rioting. (Armed federal marshalls protected Meredith in every class until he graduated in 1963.) In recording the events, Moore told a compelling story to an otherwise ignorant American public of what would turn out to the first flashpoint in race relations.
In May 1963 Life published eleven pages of Moore’s graphic photos of rioting in Birmingham, Alabama.
Birmingham was pretty tough for me, yet I was very aggressive. I was determined because I hated to see what happened in Birmingham. But I did get arrested, and with my reporter who was working along side me. I went out on my own when I resigned from the paper and decided to freelance. And I went to Mississippi when I knew there would be some problems. It was important for me to become involved. Birmingham was the most important. —Charles Moore, in an interview with Mary Morin
His photos captured peaceful protesters being beaten by police, blasted with powerful fire hoses, and threatened by the Klu Klux Klan. These singular images helped spark powerful international, and eventually, national reaction. Confronted with an irrefutable story, the mood of the country began to change.
With his camera Charles Moore made a difference. For that we honor him.
Charles Moore interview (PDF file)
Charles Moore: I Fight With My Camera (trailer and film information)