Daily Picture Show

Charles Moore, Photographer Of The Civil Rights Movement, Dies At 79

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Charles Moore appeared in a 1995 documentary. The actual date of the documentary, Charles Moore: I Fight With My Camera, produced by Daniel Love, is 2005.

Hear the All Things Considered story.

There are common names associated with the civil rights movement, like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. And there are lesser-known names like Charles Moore. His photos, which often appeared in Life magazine in the 1960s, are the ones that put faces to a movement for most Americans. He died last week at age 79.

  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  is sprawled across a police desk as his wife looks on. He was arrested while trying to attend a hearing for civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy and was released when his identity became known to the police. Montgomery, Ala., 1958
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    Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is sprawled across a police desk as his wife looks on. He was arrested while trying to attend a hearing for civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy and was released when his identity became known to the police. Montgomery, Ala., 1958
    All photos by Charles Moore/Courtesy of Black Star
  • Police dogs attack a demonstrator during an anti-segregation protest. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
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    Police dogs attack a demonstrator during an anti-segregation protest. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
  • African-American protesters taunt a white police officer during a civil rights demonstration. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
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    African-American protesters taunt a white police officer during a civil rights demonstration. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
  • James R. Jones, grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, drives to a rally with his Klan robe hanging in the back seat of his car. North Carolina, circa 1964
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    James R. Jones, grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, drives to a rally with his Klan robe hanging in the back seat of his car. North Carolina, circa 1964
  • Grand Dragon Jones (center) attends a rally. A Confederate flag is embroidered on the elbow of his sleeve. The cross on the woman's robe (left) represents the Crucifixion, and the mark on the center, a drop of Christ's blood. North Carolina, 1964-1965
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    Grand Dragon Jones (center) attends a rally. A Confederate flag is embroidered on the elbow of his sleeve. The cross on the woman's robe (left) represents the Crucifixion, and the mark on the center, a drop of Christ's blood. North Carolina, 1964-1965
  • Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally on the steps of the Alabama state capitol, in Montgomery.
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    Martin Luther King Jr. at a rally on the steps of the Alabama state capitol, in Montgomery.
  • A white man swings a baseball bat at a shopper, while another strikes a black woman in the background. The 1960 attack occurred the day after black students were refused service in the whites-only cafeteria at the state capitol. Montgomery, Ala., 1960
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    A white man swings a baseball bat at a shopper, while another strikes a black woman in the background. The 1960 attack occurred the day after black students were refused service in the whites-only cafeteria at the state capitol. Montgomery, Ala., 1960
  • A law officer (center) takes a practice swing with a billy club. The policemen, identified by white armbands, had organized a show of force to back up Lt. Gov. Paul Johnson when he turned James Meredith away from the University of Mississippi. Oxford, Miss., 1962
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    A law officer (center) takes a practice swing with a billy club. The policemen, identified by white armbands, had organized a show of force to back up Lt. Gov. Paul Johnson when he turned James Meredith away from the University of Mississippi. Oxford, Miss., 1962
  • Firemen hose demonstrators with high-pressure jets of water. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
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    Firemen hose demonstrators with high-pressure jets of water. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
  • Demonstrators huddled in a doorway seek shelter from the hoses. The water was propelled at a force of  100 pounds per square inch. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
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    Demonstrators huddled in a doorway seek shelter from the hoses. The water was propelled at a force of 100 pounds per square inch. Birmingham, Ala., 1963
  • Three young women sing freedom songs as they march toward Montgomery, Ala., in the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.
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    Three young women sing freedom songs as they march toward Montgomery, Ala., in the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. with Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett in the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.
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    Martin Luther King Jr. with Harry Belafonte and Tony Bennett in the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

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Charles Moore had been in the military, he'd been a boxer, but, as he said in a 2005 documentary, his weapon of choice in the 1960s had a flash and a shutter. "I don't wanna fight with my fists," he said. "I wanna fight with my camera."

As a white, Southern journalist, born and raised in Alabama, he was fighting against Jim Crow discrimination the only way he knew how: by taking pictures. When Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in Alabama in 1958, Moore was there. When police dogs attacked anti-segregation demonstrators in 1963, Moore was there. When a march for voting rights culminated in tear gas and police clubs in 1965, Moore was there.

At his side for many stories was Michael Durham, staff writer for Life magazine at the time. He was the reporter, but he let Moore do most of the talking — for a reason. "He had the Southern gift of gab," Durham said on the phone.

The two sneaked into churches and around police lines to get their stories. Moore somehow knew where to be, and when. His photographs are often credited with spurring the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the 1950s and '60s, he may not have realized the impact that his work would have. In a sense, he was just photographing events as they unfolded in his own backyard.

Fortunately, Moore lived long enough to see the result of his work — and the collective struggle of so many others. "I have now been back and have seen the growth from the seeds that were sown through a lot of terrible violence," Moore said in this documentary (see below). "And my camera is my tool and I would rather have that be my weapon than my fists any day."

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