Charles Moore spent
his formative years in North Alabama. Born in Hackleburg, he claims
Tuscumbia (the birthplace of Helen Keller) as his hometown because his
earliest memories are there. Currently Moore, whose career spans from the
late 1950s to the present, makes his home in Florence, Alabama.
What was your childhood like?
I loved collecting arrowheads along the Tennessee River, exploring caves,
hunting with homemade bows and arrows, and wrestling with the other kids.
Even then, I wanted to grow up and be an adventurer.
I was a product of the Depression. My father struggled to make a living for
our family. He worked as a wrestler, a Marion County policeman, and both a
car and insurance salesman. During World War II, he worked for the Tennessee
Valley Authority's defense plant as a guard.
My father became a Baptist minister -- not a hell and brimstone minister --
but a man of tolerance and compassion. My brother Jim and I saw our father
go into the jails and pray with the inmates Sunday after Sunday. He prayed
with both blacks and whites. If we ever repeated any slurs we heard on the
playground, he'd tell us very softly, "I don't want to hear those words."
Any success I've had I owe to my father. After my mother's death, he ensured
we were surrounded by extended family and had happy childhoods. He was a
wonderful man who taught by example.
Where did you learn photography?
After I graduated from Deshler High School (in Tuscumbia), I volunteered for
the Marines. Then I used my G.I. benefits to attend the Brooks Institute for
Photography in Santa Barbara. I thought I do something glamorous like become
a fashion photographer.
Instead, I came back to Alabama and went to work for The Montgomery
Advertiser in 1957. One year later, I was promoted to the position of
chief photographer. The experience just turned my life around. My career was
100% different from what I intended to do. I thought I'd photograph nature
and landscapes but I wound up photographing the changing of the times.
Talk about some of your early assignments for the newspaper.
|I moved to
Montgomery during the months following the bus boycotts started by Rosa
Parks. A whole new world was opening up between blacks and whites in the
city, in the South, and in this country.
I began to hear about this young dynamic minister, Martin Luther King
Jr., who had been appointed to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. As the
son of a Baptist minister, I was curious about this man.
Several of my assignments included covering events Dr. King was involved
with. I photographed meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership
Conference, demonstrations, Dr. King's arrest on September 3, 1958, the
sit-ins stages by students from Alabama State (one of the historically
black universities in Montgomery), and the violence surrounding them.
There was hostility surrounding doing my job.
Alabama, 1960. Early in the
movement, Martin Luther King and his wife Coretta celebrate a victory
Your photograph of Martin Luther King Jr.'s arrest brought your work to
the national level....
On one of my days off, I had taken a photograph of Dr. King being led away
from his church on Dexter Avenue which was about three blocks away from the
paper. The police had just arrested and handcuffed him. The shot was picked
up by wire services and became quite famous.
In 1962, when LIFE (magazine) called, I shocked my family, friends,
and co-workers. I quit my job (which was unthinkable because I gave up
health benefits and retirement), found an agent in New York, and became
earning my living as a photojournalist.
Talk about some of your assignments ......
|I went to the
University of Mississippi to cover James Meredith's registration there.
I convinced the marshals I was sick. They allowed me into the Lyceum
where I recorded what was going on there.
I covered the Freedom March through the Southern States. I was sent to
Birmingham. I photographed the protesters being blasted by hoses and
police dogs threatening into the crowds. I covered the Mississippi voter
registration and the Selma March. One of my all time favorite
photographs was taken at the end of the Selma March -- Joan Baez was
singing in front of Alabama's State Capitol. She was barefoot and had
such a lovely voice ......
Under heavy guard, James Meredith is escorted to registration at Ole
Miss by Chief U.S. Marshal James McShane (left) and John Doar of the
U.S. Justice Department.
How do you think
your work influenced what was going on in the South and in America at the
The photographs were never about me. They were always about the people who
were laying their lives on the line for basic civil rights. I look back and
I can't believe there was ever a time in this country when ANY citizen could
not vote. The times were appalling.
I'm very proud of the fact the photographs have been recognized for years.
Pictures can and do make a difference. Strong images of historical events do
have an impact on society. They can help with change.
After being hit from behind and
knocked down by a water hose, a woman is picked up and rescued by a
Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore has
been reissued by the University of Alabama Press. Do you feel as if your
work has come full circle?
In a word, I'm ecstatic.
I'm thrilled. I love pointing out the word "Alabama" on the book's binding.
The South has always been a special place and the changes here are
gratifying. In the '60s publishing work like mine in this state would have
You're been a working photographer for portions of six decades. Who would
you still like to photograph?
The first person who comes to mind is Jimmy Carter. I've always wanted to go
to Plains, Georgia. I'd like to chat with and photograph him. I admire the
man. I'm pleased he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Who is your favorite person you've photographed?
When Gregory Peck came to Monroeville to do his research for the movie "To
Kill A Mockingbird," he just hung out at a local diner and listened to the
dialogue around him.
I photographed him in the Monroeville Courthouse and he was a wonderful
guy.. Several years later, I photographed him while he was working on a
space movie down in Florida -- and he still remembered me!
As a free-lancer, how do you spend your days?
I'd like to spend my days photographing! Instead, I'm working full-time
keeping up with contracts, e-mails, requests from universities and museums
for speaking engagements while trying to find time for photographing.
In the last year, I've had the honor of seeing my work included as a part of
the International Festival of Journalism in Perpignan (France) and revisited
Oxford, Mississippi as part of the forty year anniversary.
The exhibit in Perpignan was most powerful. I had the pleasure of seeing my
body of work included with some of the best and most important work in the
world. I was interviewed by Radio France, Paris Match, and
Photo. My work hung in a 15th Century Cathedral. The organizers asked me
to mingle with the crowds one day and I've never been so proud. Watching
people from all over Europe studying my photographs carefully was a
I was invited back to Oxford, Mississippi as part of the town's celebration
of the fortieth anniversary of James Meredith's enrollment at the
University. I had never been back. To go down to the Square, visit Square
Books, and met Jere Hoar (author of Body Parts) was fabulous.
Everybody seems to get along so well now and the place is beautiful.
There were two highlights for me. Mrs. Medgar Evers was the guest speaker
and she gave an awesome, incredible speech. Her voice and message were so
And it was exciting to meet one of the U.S. Marshals who remembered me.
I'm trying to coordinate several speaking engagements.
I hope to have a one man show in my hometown of Tuscumbia entitled "People,
Places, and Personalities" in May.
View more of
Charles Moore's photography of Powerful Days at:
Days: The Civil Right Photography of Charles Moore
Kodak: Powerful Days in Black and White
- Powerful Days: The
Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore
- Photography by
- Text by Michael S.
Durham, Introduction by
- University of
Alabama Press, 2002
- Trade paper, $29.95
- 208 Pages, 188
Southern Scribe Review
All Photography ©
Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved