Amzie Moore worked throughout his life to address racial injustice in the Mississippi Delta, helping as early as the 1930s to create the groundwork for later civil rights activism in the state.
Moore was born on Wilkin Plantation in Grenada County on 23 September 1911. Moore’s parents separated when he was a child, and his mother died when he was fourteen. He attended Stone Street High School in Greenwood, finishing tenth grade, the most advanced grade offered. After moving to Bolivar County in 1935, Moore got a job as a post office custodian and became active in a variety of civic organizations. One group was the Black and Tan Party, an organization of African American Republicans that was banned in most areas of the state. As a young man, he started what may have been the first black Boy Scout troop in the Mississippi Delta. These activities formed the basis for Moore’s later civic and political activism.
While attending a 1940 conference of Delta blacks regarding economic and educational improvement, Moore became aware of the black movement for racial equality. When Moore was drafted in 1942, he was shocked by the segregation and racism of army bases in the United States and abroad, experiencing the ironic life of a black soldier—“Why were we fighting? Why were we there? If we were fighting for the four freedoms that Roosevelt and Churchill had talked about, then certainly we felt that the American soldier should be free first.” Moore was asked to speak to black troops to raise their morale and obscure the injustices they daily experienced, a task that angered him and strengthened his resolve for activism when he returned home. He joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) while serving abroad.
Returning to Cleveland, Mississippi, in 1946, Moore witnessed an increase in white-on-black violence that he believed served to intimidate returning black servicemen. With Dr. T. R. M. Howard, Moore helped start the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, a group designed to represent black economic interests. The group launched boycotts of businesses that denied blacks full access to their facilities while accepting their patronage. He also led voter registration drives and made appeals to stop the brutalization of blacks by highway patrolmen. As an owner of a gas station on Highway 61, Moore refused to put up “colored” and “white” signs over the restrooms. An effective recruiter in area churches, Moore often performed with the choir and then pitched the NAACP to the congregation. As a devout Christian, Moore drew biblical parallels to contemporary social issues as he spoke to congregations throughout the Delta.
Following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, intimidation of blacks increased in the Delta with the rise of the White Citizens’ Council. In 1955 the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP elected Moore president, and despite an increasingly oppressive atmosphere, he oversaw a membership drive that resulted in 439 new members and made it one of the largest chapters in the state. When Mississippi legislators passed a 1957 law requiring voters to interpret a portion of the state constitution to the approval of the registrar, Moore, working with Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, unsuccessfully sought to involve the Eisenhower administration. Undeterred, they set up citizenship schools where local activists taught reading skills and the constitution to black Mississippians.
In August 1955 Moore and Evers began a search for Emmett Till when the teenager was reported missing. Their investigation among Delta sharecroppers revealed that countless black Mississippians had been murdered over the years. Till’s murder and the resulting international media attention signaled the beginning of the civil rights movement to Moore—“From that point on, Mississippi began to move.”
In addition to owning the service station, Moore continued to work for the US Postal Service, and he and his wife, Ruth, also had rental property. However, because of his reputation as an activist, he found it difficult to obtain credit to run his business. Moore also received numerous death threats, and his marriage dissolved. Despite such personal difficulties, Moore often provided his home in Cleveland as a base for activists in the movement.
Moore expressed frustration at the hands-off approach taken by the NAACP’s national office. During the 1960s, he became very involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, attracted by the organization’s work to empower local people. Moore worked with Bob Moses to plan voter registration drives throughout the state as well as with Head Start programs and the National Council of Negro Women. Moore also served as the first chair of the Mississippi Action Committee on Education between 1967 and 1970.
Moore served as a foundational figure in the civil rights movement, empowering local people to demand change and inspiring countless younger activists. He died on 1 February 1982.
- Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (2006)
- John Dittmer, Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (1994)
- Charles M. Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995)
- Howell Raines, My Soul Is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered (1977)