Read Geraldine’s biography here.
Image taken from the Geraldine Wilson Papers Collection at the Schomburg Center
During her time with Freedom Summer, Geraldine kept record of the events occurring in the South involving missing and murdered blacks and civil rights activists. Most of the newspaper articles within her private archival collection were from The Student Voice, the official newspaper of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The Student Voice released its first publication in June 1960. Their goal was to provide the student movement with a “system of flash news to alert the nation of emergencies and serious developments.” The last publication of The Student Voice was issued in December 1965. You can read all issues of The Student Voice here.
An article that deeply affected me featured the names of those who were murdered in the early 1960s. The list shared some familiar names, Medgar Evers, a black civil rights activist assassinated by a white man in front of his home on June 12, 1963, Viola Luzzo, a white civil rights activist from Michigan murdered following the Selma to Montgomery march by the Klan while giving other activists a ride to the airport, the four little girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the SNCC workers whose bodies were found in Philadelphia, Mississippi during Freedom Summer. For Geraldine, the deaths of these individuals and all victims of hatred and discrimination were painful memories. She later reflected upon the fear she felt travelling down the Mississippi dirt roads that once claim the lives of fellow activists and innocent blacks–people like her. Reading this newspaper article within the Schomburg Center made me realize the number of people whose stories I never heard of. There names never filled my history books and sadly this was a majority of the names listed within the article. I decided to take the time to learn their stories and to share them with you all.
My hope is for their stories to be known, recognized, and honored in this two part series, Victims of Hate. While I recognize that there are many more names that could be added to this list, I am only focusing on those listed in the article.
Below I have provided you with the links to the biographies of those who biographies I was aware of; however, just because I know their stories does not mean everyone else does as well.
William Lewis Moore, April 1963
Do not go down in infamy as one who fought the democracy for all which you have not the power to prevent.
Moore’s Letter to Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi
Born in Binghamton, New York, William Lewis Moore was raised by his grandparents in Russell, Mississippi. Relocating in his adulthood to Baltimore, Maryland, he made his living as a mailman. Much remains unknown about his childhood and adulthood; however, what is known is his passion for civil rights and activism shown through his membership within the Congress of Racial Equality. Moore longed for the governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, to change the state’s racial discrimination and sought to persuade the governor by hand delivering a letter he wrote himself . He embarked on this journey walking along Highway 11 from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi; however, the letter was never delivered. Moore was shot twice in the head near Attalla, Alabama. His body left on the side of the rode near a picnic area. Klan’s member Floyd Simpson was suspected of committing this crime, yet he was never charged.
In 2008, Ellen Johnson and Ken Loukinen continued Moore’s walk from his place of death to Mississippi with a copy of his letter in hand.
For more information on Moore, click here. There is also a copy of his actual letter at this link as well.
Dear Governor Barnett,
…Be gracious. Give more than is immediately demanded of you. Make certain that when the Negro gets his rights and his vote that he does not in the process learn to treat the white man with the contempt and disdain that, unfortunately, some of us treat him.
William L. Moore
Rest in peace.
Vigil Ware and Johnny Robinson, September 1963
We must also remember the sacrifice of an innocent child shot from the handlebars of a bicycle.
Roderick Royal, Birmingham City Council
Virgil Ware was murdered on September 15, 1963, a sad familiar date in American history. This was the day the 16th Street Baptist Church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama; however, the deaths of two young black youths remain untold and unknown.
“Tommy Wrenn always said the history was incorrect. He kept saying there were six children who died that day. He was so discontent that the little boys were left out.”
Shirley Gavin Floyd, chairman of the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers in Birmingham
Two hours after the bombing, 13 year old Virgil Ware was murdered by a two White teens, while riding the handlebars of his brother’s, James, bike. Virgil died in his brother’s arms from gunshot wounds to the chest and cheek. Larry Sims was charged with 1st degree murder and found guilty of second degree murder. Michael Farley plead guilty to the same charge and both were sentenced to seven months of prison. The judge eventually suspended their sentences giving them two years probation for the death of Virgil Ware.
Rest in peace.
On this same day that claimed the lives of four little girls and Virgil Ware, the life of Johnny Robinson was taken as well. Following the bombing of the 16th Street Church, Johnny, along with many others, gathered at a nearby gas station. Young white teens started to taunt the growing crowd. According to responding officers, a few members of the crowd began to throw rocks at the white teens. When the police arrived, they ran down an alley. Another police car blocked the other end with the officer in the backseat pointing a gun out of the window. Police later told news reporters that Parker fired a warning shot at the running youth, but other officers reported that the slamming of the car’s brakes resulted in the firing of Parker’s weapons.
It was devastating. It really was devastating because we had to get up the next morning to go to school.
Leon Robinson, Johnny’s younger brother
Whatever happened that day, Johnny was shot in the wrists and back. Shortly after the shooting, he was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Two grand juries refused to charge Parker and it was not until 2009 when the F.B.I. investigated Robinson’s case that the remaining family members learned of what exactly happened to their brother. Despite the reopening of this case, no would could be indicted–Parker died in 1977.
Rest in peace.
John L. Coley, 20, Birmingham, shot and killed on Sep. 4, 1963, in brutal police action that followed the bombing of Atty. Arthur Shores’ home.
Jet Magazine, April 15, 1965, page 10
Army veteran, John Coley, spent two years in Germany returning to Alabama after the war. Following the bombing of Arthur Shore’s home, a prominent black civil rights attorney, a protest erupted. Coley, unarmed, ran as many protesters did following a clash with police. Officers shot him in his side and neck.
Rest in peace.
Herbert Lee and Lewis Allen
Farmer Herbert Lee at the age of 52 was shot and killed by a white member of the Mississippi Legislature, E.H. Hurst. Hurst was never charged with the crime. In fact, several blacks were forced to testify that Lee attempted to hit Hurst with a tire tool. Hurst was acquitted the same day of the killing, September 25, 1961. Lee was murdered because of his participation with the local NAACP chapter. The deputy sheriff and a group of armed whites disrupted the organization’s meeting. Several memberss, Lee included, were threatened. As Lee drove to the local gin the next morning, Hurst followed behind him in his truck. An argument erupted which resulted in Hurst shooting Lee in the head.
“I must have pulled the trigger unconsciously.”
No charges were ever brought against Hurst. Lewis Allen, a key witness in Lee’s murder, recanted his testimony saying he lied to protect himself and his family.
Somehow, word that Allen is talking to the Feds is leaked to white segregationists — many Movement activists believe the leak came from within the Justice Department. Death threats are made against Allen and his timber business suffers from boycotts. In September of 1962, Deputy Sheriff Dan Jones arrests Allen on phony charges of interfering with a police officer. Jones beats Allen, breaking his jaw. In November of 1963, Jones arrests Allen again. This time for a “bounced check” and a “concealed weapon.” Officials threaten Allen with “three to five years” in the penitentiary for these imaginary crimes. It takes three weeks for the NAACP to raise the $800 bail required to release Allen from jail pending trial.
No judge would ever hear his story for Allen was murdered in his driveway three years later. On the day of his murder, April 7, 1964, he was making the final arrangements on moving North for he had faced constant harassment from police since the Lee killing.
Rest in peace.
I hope you take the time to read these stories. Part II will be posted soon. There are eight more stories that still need to be shared.
Until the next post,