Lessons learned in courage and sacrifice
JACKSON, Miss. — Rylee Stanley’s strong desire to leave an indelible footprint of social and beneficial activism upon the Mahoning Valley received a major thrust from a man she had never heard of a day earlier.
“Moving forward, I will always be reminded of courage and sacrifice, and do everything I can to improve our community,” the 17-year-old Ursuline High School senior said.
Fueling such a long-term desire was having heard a presentation Thursday from Thomas Moore, whose brother, Charles Eddie Moore, 19, disappeared May 2, 1964, along with his friend Henry Hezekiah Dee, 19.
Moore, 78, of Colorado Springs, Colo., spoke to Rylee and other Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past members, as well as their California counterparts, about his brother at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum regarding the long struggle to get justice for him. In June 2007, James Ford Seale was convicted on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy and given three life sentences.
Moore and Dee were hitchhiking in Meadville, Miss., after Dee, a sawmill worker, had picked up his paycheck at the Haltom Lumber Co. According to the FBI, the Klan thought the two teens were among black Muslims plotting an armed uprising in the county.
Under the ruse of offering them a ride, Klansmen instead took Moore and Dee to the Homochitto National Forest, where they tied the two men to trees and whipped them with bamboo shoots before tying them to an engine block, with tape over their mouths, and dumping them alive into the river. Their mutilated remains were found about two months later on the Louisiana side of the river.
Their cases were largely eclipsed because of the ongoing search for Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, three civil rights workers who disappeared June 21, 1964, days before the charred remains of their car were found. Their bodies were discovered 44 days later under an earthen dam at Old Jolly Farm not far from where they went missing.
Moore worked with a Canadian filmmaker named David Ridgen to make a documentary about the cold cases.
Decades later, Moore, a Vietnam War veteran who also served 30 years in the Army, found the ability to forgive his brother’s killers, which also included Charles Marcus Edwards, who received immunity for testifying against Seale.
“My favorite quote of his is, ‘I locked myself in jail, and I had the key,'” Rylee said, referring to Moore’s strength to free himself of hatred and bitterness.
Natalia McRae, 17, who plans to attend Youngstown State University to study psychology, was deeply moved by Reena Evers Everette, whose father, Medgar Evers, was assassinated with a high-powered rifle June 12, 1963, while getting out of his car while returning to his Jackson home after a mass meeting. He was 37.
“Reena doesn’t hate the man who did that to her father,” Natalia observed after having heard Evers Everette speak to the group next to the spot at the Evers home where she found her father’s bloodied body when she was a child.
“My father wanted to empower people of color,” Evers Everette, executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute in Jackson, said.
About a month before he was killed, Evers was in Washington, D.C., to meet with President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, to urge them to more forcefully help with voting rights, she remembered.
The participants must summon the courage to continue moving forward, despite many societal evils today, Evers Everette continued.
In the early 1950s, Evers, who also was a World War II Army veteran, traveled through the Mississippi Delta selling insurance for the Magnolia Life Insurance Co. and organizing new NAACP chapters. He became field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP, which included investigating nine racial murders, and led numerous mass demonstrations against the entrenched Jim Crow system.
Natalia added she plans to tell Evers’ story to her children, and become more of an activist. The example the family has set also has taught her greater strength, bravery, the power of living beyond fear and cherishing loved ones.
“We need to do all the good we can do in this world before we’re gone,” Natalia said.