Editor's note: Donna Ladd, editor of the alternative weekly the Jackson Free Press, teamed with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to follow Colorado Springs resident Thomas Moore, an Army vet and Mississippi native, as he seeks justice for his younger brother, who was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. This is his story.
Charles Moore hitchhiked often. Growing up in the 1950s and '60s near the lethargic town of Meadville, Miss., the young black man had not enjoyed the amenities that many white teenagers had. His daddy had died in 1948, and left the family with little. They did not have running water, indoor plumbing, electricity, gas, a TV; they lived in a three-room shotgun house about 32 miles east of Natchez, Miss. Charles shared a room with his brother, Thomas, who was one year older. They could see daylight through the wooden slats.
Their mother, Mazie, spent much of her free time in the tiny, damp kitchen, cooking biscuits and fatback, butterbeans, fried chicken and her famous potato salad. The boys picked blackberries and huckleberries for her jellies; they had hogs and chickens for meat and eggs. She always put three meals a day, home-cooked, on their small table.
Most days, Tom and Nub, as most everybody called Charles, took biscuits and fatback in greasy paper bags for lunch, first at the small black school in Meadville and, after 1963, at the consolidated black school for all of Franklin County. They usually sat together as they ate their biscuits.
"You seeing one, you seeing two," Thomas Moore says now. "We were poor, but we had everything we needed."
The family had to rely on welfare -- $12 a month -- and the $10 a month Mazie made cleaning the house of the local welfare director, a white man. She also took in white folks' laundry that she and the boys would scrub in iron wash pots filled with scalding hot water.
But, somehow, it was enough.
"We had a good Christmas, always," Thomas says. "We'd each get six apples, six oranges, a paper-cap pistol. During the county fair, we'd get $5 for the whole week."
To get to work or to visit their cousins and friends in nearby Bude, or to go to Natchez, the brothers would hitch rides, mostly from white folks who could afford cars.
The family believed in working hard so they could have more someday; both boys dreamed of building their mama a brick house with running water and electric lights. Her goal was to send them both to college so they could have their piece of the American dream.
"She taught us how to be somebody," Thomas says of his mother, who only completed the sixth grade. "She taught us our ABCs and multiplication tables before we went to school. She was proud of her two boys."
My brother's keeper
When we first meet Thomas, he is standing in the spot where his brother last was seen alive by anyone besides Klansmen. It is July 8, 2005, and large but sporadic raindrops are starting to fall on Main Street in Meadville as Hurricane Dennis threatens the Gulf Coast. The street is peaceful on a Friday afternoon, except for the thunder claps that sound like gunshots.
"This is where we always hitchhiked from," he says. Thomas, now a hulking, muscular man of 62, has lived in Colorado Springs near Fort Carson with his wife, Mae, and son, Jeffrey, since he retired from the Army in 1994 after 30 years of service. He had arrived in Meadville on July 7, after driving to Mississippi with David Ridgen, a documentarian from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. who also was following his journey back to Mississippi.
Thomas says that, in the '60s, they had to hitchhike to get around. And they weren't afraid of hitching from whites; they hadn't really heard about the Civil Rights Movement. They ate at the back of the Meadville Caf, sat upstairs in the movie theater. Their people couldn't vote, and they studied from a history book with a rebel flag on the cover. Segregation was what they grew up knowing.
The boys may not have known about Freedom Rides, but all mothers of black boys knew details of the 1955 Emmett Till case up in Money, Miss., where a Chicago mama lost her 14-year-old boy after he supposedly whistled at a white man's wife.
"Don't you be out there messing around with them white women," Mazie would tell Tom and Nub.
"She had a protective mentality," Thomas remembers.
So did Thomas. Because Nub was more studious and a bit smaller, the older brother always watched out for the younger one.
"Charles Moore would have made a Ph.D.," he says. "I was the fighter; I protected him at school."
Tom intentionally flunked a year, he says now, in order to play football long enough to try to get a college scholarship. That meant that the brothers went to senior year together at Lillie May Bryant School. But, as no scholarship was in the offing, Tom decided to wait a year to go to college, and work in New Orleans instead, so that Nub could go to Alcorn State, a black college near Natchez.
In the fall of 1963, Nub went to Alcorn -- and, shortly thereafter, Tom was drafted into the Army and reported to Fort Polk in Louisiana for training.
Charles' stay at Alcorn was short-lived, though. After he joined a student protest about the poor quality of the cafeteria food his second semester, Alcorn president J.D. Boyd suspended him for "conduct on the campus unbecoming a student." By all accounts, that was his only brush ever with politics. So he went back home to eat his mother's cooking and hang out with his cousins in nearby Bude.
The night of May 1, 1964, Charles told Mazie he was going with cousin Evis Bell to a party. He planned to stay the night.
The next day, Mazie passed the hitching spot on Main Street and saw Charles trying to thumb. He was there with fellow Lillie Bryant alum Henry Dee, a dapper 19-year-old who had moved to Chicago and was back home visiting.
Mazie had gotten a ride to the doctor and figured she would pick the boys up when she came back by there. That Saturday was the last time Mazie saw her boy alive.
Fellow Klansmen later would tell the FBI that when James Ford Seale, a 29-year-old truck driver from Meadville, drove by in his Volkswagen and saw the two boys, he got in his head that they were "part of the agitation that was going on in Mississippi, especially since one of them had recently come down from Chicago."
He told the man driving with him, reportedly Charles Marcus Edwards, who worked at International Paper in Natchez, to get out of the car and follow him in his pickup; he went back to the boys, who did not thumb him for a ride. He pulled over anyway and told them to get into the car, that he was a Federal Revenue agent.
Followed by other Klansmen, Seale turned off U.S. 84 into the Homochitto National Forest. When he stopped, Charles and Henry got out and the pickup pulled up. Seale got out with his carbine in his hand "and got the drop on the two Negroes."
The Klansmen -- all members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, then very active in and around Natchez -- tied the two boys to a tree and began severely beating them both with bean sticks.
'Klansman, I want you'
After meeting Thomas Moore in Meadville, we drive the route the VW would have followed to take his brother and his friend into Homochitto. The raindrops, still few and far between, seem as big as quarters. The cicadas provide a dramatic soundtrack.
After we park, Thomas walks ahead of us, carrying a long, thin tree limb with four stems of leaves shooting from one end. It's probably 7 feet long. He walks up to a Magnolia tree.
"This is a stick similar to a bean stick, the same size. People used bean sticks to stake beans, string beans, butterbeans, to stake tomatoes," Thomas says. He starts swinging it like a baseball bat into the tree, with the force of all his 210 pounds.
Whack, whack, whack. The blows leave deep welts on the trunk of the Magnolia.
"These sticks had a lot of flexibility for beating someone tied to a tree," Thomas adds.
"Imagine a person, tied to a tree, a rope tied around their waist," he says between whacks. "They were trying to get them to confess to something that had no value." Whack. "They did confess to stop the bleeding."
By now, all the leaves are gone, and the stick is at least a foot shorter.
As they unleashed all their strength on the boys, the Klansmen told Charles and Henry they knew they were black Muslims trying to start an insurrection. They wanted to know who was leading the "Negro problems" in Franklin County. One of the boys finally told them the name of a black preacher in Roxie, to get them to stop.
When the Klansmen tired of swinging, the young men were hanging there by the waist, nearly lifeless, covered with blood. The Klansmen then had to decide what to do with them. According to FBI files, Seale's father Clyde, of Meadville, got to a telephone and called another son, Jack Seale, over in Natchez.
"KIWU!" Clyde said. The word "Kiwu" stands for "Klansman, I want you" in the KKK handbook.
Jack Seale reportedly responded to the cry for help by getting his buddy Ernest Parker, then a Natchez businessman, to bring his red Ford car to the forest and help load the two men, who were nearly dead. They put Charles and Henry on a plastic tarp to keep bloodstains from getting into the trunk. They then drove some 100 miles to a boat landing on the Mississippi River belonging to Parker, according to FBI files.
There they took the men out into the water, tied one of them to an old Jeep block and the other to a weighted chain, and pushed them overboard. They talked about shooting them first, being that they were still breathing, but "Seale replied that he did not want to shoot them because it would have gotten blood all over the boat," according to an FBI informant.
The bodies of Charles Moore and Henry Dee would not be found for over two months. As the families worried, rumor had it that they had run off somewhere. Meanwhile, in the white community, at least the white Klan community, word spread about the murders, with one tale being that Dee had "peeped" at Charles Edwards' wife.
On July 12 and 13, Navy divers looking for the bodies of three other men murdered by the KKK -- James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- found the torsos of Charles and Henry. They were identified by personal effects, including a belt buckle that Thomas Moore had given his brother.
Anywhere in glory
It is dusk by the time we get to the cemetery behind Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, where Charles Moore used to be a substitute Sunday School teacher. It is on a dirt road near Kirby, across a cattle guard, encircled by a barbed-wire fence. The rain has stopped, the sky is pinkish-gray, and the cicadas have followed us.
Thomas is quiet as he strides to the back right corner of the cemetery. He slows down as he approaches his family plot; his shoulders slump as he bends over graves that are starting to cave in a bit, to look at his brother's tombstone. Its condition takes him back, and he seems surprised at an inscription he hasn't read in years. It is handwritten into a block of concrete, like a child's initials scrawled into a wet sidewalk. The word "born" is crumbling away:
Cherlie Eddie Moor
B______ Aug. 10, 1944
Beried July 1964
Darling, we will miss you
Anywhere in Glory Is All Right
It is the only time we will see Thomas seem embarrassed. "I got to get a new tombstone," he says, adding, "A local guy did this. He didn't spell his name right."
Standing under a huge oak tree, Thomas describes coming home from camp after his commander told him part of his brother's body was found. Once he got here, no one would say anything about the murder. No one.
The funeral service was small, with some community people, relatives, a few classmates. Mazie asked Thomas to wear his khaki Army uniform, and to walk in front of the casket as it was moved in and out of the church.
"The preacher didn't talk or say anything about the violent act, or anything like that," Thomas says.
Thomas remembers wanting to take his 30-30 Winchester, hunt down the Klansmen and exact revenge. But his mother told him no, that he needed to go make somebody out of himself instead. He would survive, she said.
Still, Thomas regrets the code of silence about the murders that developed between him and his mother and family members.
"People didn't talk about it at all. It was fear, shock; they didn't want to get involved, maybe," he says. They also knew how unlikely it was to get justice for the murders of two black men by a gang of white ones.
"I drank a little then" -- he doesn't now at all -- "and I was trying to get drunk a lot. Mama would sit on the porch crying, saying, 'I wish he'd walk through that door.' I knew it was going to be the death of her."
The mother who "thought she had raised two ideal boys," as Thomas says now, lived another 12 years. She got her driver's license, drove a truck Thomas helped her buy, kept cooking and going to church and cleaning houses. But she did die young, in her sleep on April 30, 1977. She was 65.
"I remember Mama crying, but we never talked about it," Thomas says. "Maybe the two of us should have talked."
Instead, Thomas went out into the world with his sweetheart from Roxie by his side. He spent 30 years in the Army, becoming a command sergeant major, aand going to Korea and Vietnam, and then settled in Colorado Springs, where his son, Jeffrey, grew up and attended Cheyenne Mountain High School and became a social worker.
"I had a great Army career; I did it all," he says.
Still, though, Thomas sometimes pines for the Mississippi of his upbringing -- a state he loved dearly until it turned its back on his brother's death. "I never thought about leaving (Mississippi)," Thomas says. "Then I was drafted into Army, and then Charles Moore was killed."
The murder -- and the fact that nothing was done about it -- soured him on the state that he loved.
"Then I knew I would never come back," he says, adding: "But I have a dream, a fantasy kind of dream, to retire, to move back to the old place (near Meadville), to raise me some peas. But there are too many bad memories. I have sweet memories of home, but bad memories about Charles Moore."
Thomas has tried to recreate a slice of Mississippi in his Colorado Springs yard, despite a different climate, very dry air, a short growing season. He has four cabbage plants in his yard, and has tried to grow okra. He even transplanted a small Magnolia tree back there once. It didn't make it.
But he has managed to create at least a feel of the old place, with relics of the South: "I have a wagon wheel we used to ride to town on and wash pots Mama used to boil water to wash clothes in."
He also has an old red Western Flyer bicycle that Mazie bought him and Charles to share in 1958.
"I have that bike hanging in my garage," Thomas says.
Thomas picked up two bachelor's degrees, one in social science and another in social work. On his second degree, he had "Charles Eddie Moore" inscribed on it instead of his own name.
"I dedicated it to him," Thomas says as the cicadas sing.
'A story never told'
The truth is, a few people did care about the murders of Henry Dee and Charles Moore.
"Dee-Moore was a major case for the FBI," says Bill Williams, an FBI agent brought to Natchez in 1964 to help deal with the growing rifts between the KKK -- or "Kluckers," as the FBI called them -- and the civil rights workers starting to show up in greater numbers.
"The case was barely open when I got there. Natchez had actually become a focal point for racial, anti-civil rights activity for the state, and would be for several years," says Williams by phone from Oregon, where he now is retired. "Our main focus was to stop the violence."
At any given time then, there were upward of 100 FBI agents in and around Natchez, Williams says. A good number of them were trying to crack the Dee-Moore case, even as national media crowded into Neshoba County to report on the disappearance of the three civil rights workers, two of them white from New York, the other a black Mississippian.
The FBI investigation of the Dee-Moore case yielded more than 1,000 pages of files, including informant accounts. The FBI soon turned over what seemed to be a wealth of evidence to then-District Attorney Lenox Forman in Natchez, who promised to put it before the grand jury. On Nov. 6, the FBI and local authorities arrested James Ford Seale, 29, and Charles Marcus Edwards, 31, both of Meadville.
Both men confessed to the crime, according to the FBI. They were released on $5,000 bonds, with a hearing set for Jan. 11, 1965.
But on Jan. 12, 1965, the DA decided to drop the charges against Seale and Edwards.
Forman said that the case was "greatly prejudiced" toward the defendants because they "put out the story" in Meadville that, after their arrest, they had been "brutally mistreated" and denied medication by the Mississippi State Highway Patrol. Forman called the stories "dilatory tactics" but believed that such accusations would cause the charges to be dismissed at the initial hearing. He said that if more evidence were developed, he would present the case to the grand jury later, possibly as soon as August 1965.
That never happened. Edwards, Seale and other Klansmen continued living their lives in the Natchez area, many to their deaths. Some, however, still are alive.
Taking a back seat
Thomas Moore's campaign began in December 1998 after he heard that James Byrd had been dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas. From Colorado, he wrote a letter to Mississippi 6th Judicial District Attorney Ronnie Harper asking him to look into his brother's murder. Harper agreed. Then a Jan. 14, 2000, Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger report that the murders occurred on federal land spurred the FBI to take a fresh look.
"I'm just thrilled to death. I'm going home to tell my son," Thomas told Clarion-Ledger reporter Jerry Mitchell then.
But, again, justice was delayed and media reports petered out. The case languished, taking a back seat to more high-profile cases such as the Neshoba murders, which finally were prosecuted by the state for the first time last month. The jurors found 80-year-old Edgar Ray Killen guilty of three counts of manslaughter in the case; he is expected to die in prison.
At that trial, Rita Schwerner Bender, the wife of Klan victim Michael Schwerner and now a Seattle attorney, pointed out that the bodies of two black men were found in the Mississippi River during the search for her husband in 1965 -- but it attracted little attention both then and now.
"You're here, you're interested in this trial as the most important trial of the Civil Rights Movement because two of the men are white," she said outside the courthouse. "You're still doing what was done in 1964."
But at least two media outlets already were planning a fresh look at the Dee-Moore case. Ridgen of the CBC had contacted the Jackson Free Press weeks before the Killen trial about working together on the Dee-Moore case. He then located Thomas Moore in Colorado Springs, who still was eager for justice in his brother's case.
Thomas arrived in Meadville believing that only one of the primary suspects in the murders was still alive: Charles Marcus Edwards. But while in Natchez, we learned -- he from community people and DA Harper; the Jackson Free Press team from a former Klansman -- that the other primary suspect, James Ford Seale, also still is alive and living in the area. (Reached at his home, Edwards refused to talk to the Jackson Free Press; no number was available for Seale.)
This was a welcome shock. "When we left Colorado," Thomas says, "we had a plan as to what we wanted to do. But when we entered Franklin County and found out that James Ford Seale was still alive, it sprang out like a tree. It gave me more energy to go out in the community and talk to people.
"Everything I've touched, everyone I've talked to, has given me encouragement. "
The shadow of death
The best news Thomas heard during his trip to Mississippi came while he was sitting in U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton's office in Jackson. After Thomas called Lampton to inquire about the status of the case, Lampton got on the phone to the FBI headquarters in Washington. By the time Thomas arrived at his office on Wednesday, July 13, he had great news.
Lampton told Thomas he would lead an effort to re-investigate the case, as well as that of 37-year-old Wharlest Jackson, who was killed by a bomb in Natchez in 1967 after being promoted into a "whites-only" job. He said the Dee-Moore case still had federal jurisdiction even though the men did not die in the forest, because the Klansmen started the job there.
"He wants to satisfy me, and he wants to satisfy himself that if there is anything he can do, he would do it," Thomas says. "I believe the man. I believe him."
It doesn't hurt that it turned out that Lampton and Thomas were members of the same U.S. Army unit, the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry, when they were training to go to the Persian Gulf. Lampton was a colonel.
"He respected my rank as a command sergeant major," Thomas says. "He knows the authority and power my commission invested in me. It's kind of like old soldiers taking care of each other. He's a fine gentleman."
Bolstered by Lampton's pledge, Thomas decides to return to Franklin County to leave his mark before boarding a plane back home to Colorado Springs on July 18. Sunday morning, he shows up at Roxie First Baptist Church dressed in a new gray suit to talk to his people.
Rev. Johnson introduces Thomas to the congregation as light peeks in through blue, pink and yellow stained-glass windows.
"I saw the heaviness on his own heart as he came and talked with me on the outside before the service. And I want him to feel the relief we feel and how we get relief through the grace of God," Johnson says.
Thomas steps up: "Now, you may ask, 'Well, why are you doing it now? Why are you coming back to seek justice?'" he says. "I served this country for 30 years and 15 days ... I have the right to be here. Because I am going to hold Franklin County and the state of Mississippi accountable for the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Dee. And I have no fear. 'Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.' I have no fear."
After the service, Thomas and several men -- including his nephew Michael Webster, Finnis Weathersby and Mac Littleton -- take two signs and erect them on the side of the road in front of Seale's and Edwards' homes. After they pound the first -- "In Memory of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore ... Rest In Peace and JUSTICE" -- into the ground in front of Seale's house, the men put their hands on top of each others,' huddle-style, and Webster says a prayer.
Thomas Moore then talks directly to his brother: "I spoke at the church you were baptized in. It kind of brings it all together. Rest in peace, my brother. I will fight for justice until the day I die. I want you to know that, OK?"
In front of Edwards' house on Rand Lane SW near Meadville, Thomas speaks to Charles once again: "Rest in peace, brother. We'll see you on the higher ground."
Donna Ladd, a founding editor of the Colorado Springs Independent, is the editor of the Jackson Free Press. Additional reporting by Natalie Irby and Thabi Moyo. You can donate to a memorial fund to purchase new tombstones for Moore and Dee at jacksonfreepress.com.
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