By Jay Reeves
ABOVE PHOTO: This November 2004 photo shows photographer Charles Moore holding one of his photographs. Moore, a photographer who chronicled the civil rights movement, has died. John Edgley of Edgley Cremation Services in West Palm Beach, Fla., confirmed that Moore died Thursday, March 11, 2010. He was 79.
(AP Photo/TimesDaily, Jim Hannon)
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama –The world saw glimpses of the civil rights movement through Charles Moore’s eyes: In black-and-white photographs, he captured arresting images of the integration riots at the University of Mississippi in 1962, the fire hoses in Birmingham in ’63, a Ku Klux Klan rally in North Carolina in ’65.
The Alabama native recognized the significance of the civil rights movement early on as one of the first photographers to document the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership. Moore is remembered for his striking images of historic and often violent events that required him to get closer to the action than many other photographers would.
Moore died last week at age 79, said John Edgley of Edgley Cremation Services in Florida.
The photographer seemed to realize that civil rights demonstrators were not the troublemakers that white authorities depicted them as, said Carolyn McKinstry, who lost four girlhood friends when a Ku Klux Klan bomb ripped through Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham more than 46 years ago.
“They were trying to change the future. I think he could understand that,” McKinstry said last Monday.
Working for the Montgomery Advertiser at the time, Moore began covering the civil rights movement and was the lone photographer at the scene when King was arrested in Montgomery in 1958. One of his images showed two white police officers hustling away King, whose right arm was wrenched behind his back.
John Kaplan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who teaches journalism at the University of Florida, said Moore knew he was witnessing history, and it showed in his work. His relationship with King and other leaders in the movement earned him access to important events.
“He had a personal relationship with King. King trusted him,” Kaplan said.
Later, while working on a contract basis for Life magazine, Moore traveled around the South to cover some of the most dramatic events of the civil rights movement.
Moore photographed the riots at the University of Mississippi that coincided with the enrollment of James Meredith as its first black student. In one, white students hold a Civil War era Confederate battle flag aloft as they jeer.
The next year, in 1963, Moore was in Birmingham when black children and teenagers marched through city streets demanding an end to legalized segregation. They were met by police with snarling dogs and firefighters who pounded them with streams of water from fire hoses.
In 1965, he photographed Alabama state troopers in masks tear-gassing voting rights marchers in Selma. The confrontation, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” received worldwide attention, partly because of Moore’s photography.
“I’m proud to say my photographs have helped to make a difference in our country and our society, and to show that we’re all children of the same God,” Moore said in a 2005 interview with the Montgomery Advertiser.
Moore’s photos stand out because he used short lenses that required him to get close to the demonstrators, said Hank Klibanoff, who won a Pulitzer with Gene Roberts for their book “The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle and the Awakening of a Nation.”
“There are images of Charles in the middle of the scrum while other photographers are on the sidewalks, missing the action,” said Klibanoff.
In 1991, Moore published “Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore,” which included his biography and some of his most important photos. Around that time, McKinstry came to know Moore through joint appearances and retrospectives on the civil rights era.
McKinstry said Moore’s photos helped Americans understand what was going on in the Deep South in the 1950s and ’60s, even if many were slow to recognize the importance of the events.
“It got international attention immediately. In the case of America, it took a lot longer,” she said.