Photographer’s Archive Captures Iconic Moments of Civil Rights Movement
The Briscoe Center for American History has acquired the archive of Charles Moore, an acclaimed photographer of the civil rights movement, who captured some of the most compelling images of the 1950s and 1960s.
“Charles Moore’s archive documents some of the civil rights movement’s most dramatic and important events,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “His archive is perfectly complemented at the center by those of fellow photojournalists Spider Martin and Flip Schulke who, like Moore, skillfully chronicled the civil rights movement. Over the years, the Briscoe Center has become a vital resource for scholars and students who seek to understand this critical period in American history.”
Moore grew up in Alabama. His father was a Baptist minister who preached racial tolerance. After his training as a combat photographer for the Marines, Moore joined the staff of the Montgomery Advertiser in 1957. The following year, the Associated Press and Life magazine published his now-iconic picture of Martin Luther King Jr.’s arrest in Montgomery. Moore went on to become one of the most important photographers of the civil rights movement, documenting the racial integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962, and the use of dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. According to civil rights leader Andrew Young, Moore’s images represent more than “simple visual accounts” of the civil rights movement during its crucial phase in the late 1950s and early 1960s; they represent a means to “sharpen memories, to relive and revisit some of the most meaningful, terrifying and rewarding moments of our lives.”
“Charles Moore brought an astounding conjunction of photographic agility, graphic ingenuity, and sheer passion to portraying the key moments of the Civil Rights Movement in his native Alabama and beyond,” said Steven Kasher, author of The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954-68. “He produced images as iconic to our times as the Mona Lisa is iconic to the Renaissance. The Briscoe Center’s preservation and dissemination of Charles’s archive is essential for our collective historical memory.”
The Moore archive consists of original negatives, correspondence, diaries, news clippings and ephemera. Of particular interest are Moore’s annotated work prints for some of his most important photographs. For example, on the work print for his 1963 image of Birmingham protestors being hosed, Moore has instructed the developer to “make this a gutsy print that will still make a good copy neg.” On others, he instructs photo editors to keep details, prevent muddiness and maintain balanced compositions. These prints, likely produced in the 1990s, show Moore’s continued pursuit of quality, craftsmanship and detail as he sought to preserve the historical legacy of his photographs.
“For all the journalists covering the civil rights story through the ’60s, it was difficult, exhausting and often very dangerous,” recalled Moore in his 1990 book, Powerful Days. “For me it was all the above plus troubling and emotional in a personal way, because I am a southerner too.”
Later in the 1960s Moore documented voter registration drives across the South, Ku Klux Klan activities in North Carolina and the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965. According to Moore, he eventually had to leave Alabama for his own safety. In addition to travel photography, Moore also covered the civil war in the Dominican Republic and political violence in Haiti and Venezuela. He died in 2010, having returned to Alabama. A note in his archive reads, “After many years of traveling the world as a photojournalist … moving back to my home state of north Alabama, I have seen a difference. I have seen the result of Martin Luther King’s courage … the American South is a better place for all people, and we must continue to make it.”