Mississippi Civil Rights Leader
“I found that SNCC was for business, live or die, sink or swim, survive or perish. They were moving, and nobody seemed to worry about whether he was gonna live or die.” Amzie Moore oral history interview, From http://www.crmvet.org/nars/amzie.htm
Amzie Moore was thirty years old when he first became aware of the “freedom movement” in 1942, when ten thousand blacks had assembled at the Delta State Stadium to hear black speakers discuss the conditions of the race in Mississippi. In that same year, Amzie Moore was drafted from a segregated state into a segregated Army. “I really didn’t know what segregation was like before I went into the Army,” Moore reflected many years later. (Moore quoted in James Forman, Making of Black Revolutionaries, p. 278). “It was the first time I really knew how evil segregation really was.”
In the Army, Moore “kept wondering why were we fighting? Why were we there? If we were fighting for the four freedoms that Roosevelt and Churchill had talked about, then certainly we felt that the American soldier should be free first.” But segregation followed Moore everywhere the Army sent him—to Los Angeles, to India, to the Himalayas, to Burma. In India, he listened to the Japanese radio broadcasts “day and night” about segregation, claiming that the Japanese were fighting for the emancipation of the colored races. Moore was given the job of lecturing black troops about these broadcasts in order to counter their effects. He flew “from Lashie to Kuming to Mishinaw, Burma, to give these lectures. We were promised that after the war was over, things would be different, that men would have a chance to be free. Somehow or another, some of us didn’t believe it, others did.”
“Now, I didn’t join an organization with SNCC. I just worked with ’em.” Amzie Moore oral history interview. From http://www.crmvet.org/nars/amzie.htm
Amzie returned to Mississippi in January 1946 to find that local whites had organized a “home guard” in response to the returning black soldiers. “For about six or eight months, at least one Negro each week was killed.” But blacks were no longer as isolated and friendless as they were before the war. The Federal government had ordered all its facilities desegregated during World War II. Moore called the FBI, which sent in special agents to investigate some of the killings. The violence slowed.
In 1950, Amzie was involved with many blacks from all over the Mississippi delta in organizing the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. Thirteen thousand blacks came out to its first meeting in May 1950, which adopted the goal of obtaining first class citizenship for blacks. The second meeting of the Regional Council in 1952 heard from Thurgood Marshall who had argued the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court.
“But when an individual stood at a courthouse like the courthouse in Greenwood and in Greenville and watched tiny figures [of the SNCC workers] standing against a huge column. … [against white] triggermen and drivers and lookout men riding in automobiles with automatic guns … how they stood … how gladly they got in the front of that line, those leaders, and went to jail! It didn’t seem to bother ’em. It was an awakening for me …”
After the Brown decision came down in 1954, it didn’t take long for the white backlash to begin. In October 1954 the White Citizen’s Council organized in Indianola, Mississippi. Violence against blacks escalated. In January 1955, Moore became the president of the Cleveland, Mississippi NAACP which quickly increased its membership from 87 to 564. The infamous murder of 15-year-old Emmett Till occurred in September 1955 in Mississippi in the midst of this rising tide of black voter registration activity. Moore called the Justice Department in 1956 to get them to investigate persistent white efforts to prevent blacks from voting. Nothing happened, leaving black Mississippi activists unprotected against the rising tide of racist violence and intimidation.
“In nineteen hundred and fifty five, Emmett Till was found dead in the Tallahatchie River, and they had newspapers from all over the continent North America, some from India, and it was the best advertised lynching that I had ever heard. Personally, I think this was the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi in the twentieth century. … From that point on, Mississippi began to move.”
In 1960, Robert Moses met Amzie Moore through his association with Bayard Rustin and Ella Baker, militant leftists within the civil rights movement, who had met Moore during the 1950’s. Moses became the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee’s leader in Mississippi voter registration activity where he took up the struggle Amzie Moore had been leading for 15 years. SNCC was the militant wing of the civil rights movement. And Amzie Moore was their adviser in the state. They faced the most brutal conditions, with the least support and the most powerful enemies. But just like in the trade union movement of the 1930s, the militants made the difference, propelling the issues into public attention, making a crisis for the status quo.
Excerpt from “PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTARIES: The Making of “We’ll Never
Turn Back” (1963) and “Dream Deferred” (1964) by Harvey Richards,” written by Paul Richards. We’ll Never Turn Back and Dream Deferred are available through Estuary Press.