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Freedom Walk

Mississippi or Bust

Publication Year: 2003

In 1963, the streams of religious revival, racial strife, and cold-war politics were feeding the swelling river of social unrest in America. Marshaling massive forces, civil rights leaders were primed for a widescale attack on injustice in the South. By summer the conflict rose to great intensity as blacks and whites clashed in Birmingham. Outside the massive drive, Bill Moore, a white mail carrier, had made his own assault a few months earlier. Jeered and assailed as he made a solitary civil rights march along the Deep South highways, he was ridiculed by racists as a "crazy man." His well publicized purpose: to walk from Chattanooga to Jackson and hand-deliver a plea for racial tolerance to Ross Barnett, the staunchly segregationist governor of Mississippi. On April 23, on a highway near Attalla, Alabama, this lone crusader was shot dead. Although he was not a nobly ideal figure handpicked by shapers of the movement, inadvertently he became one of its earliest martyrs and, until now, part of an overlooked chapter in the history of the civil rights movement. Floyd Simpson, a grocer and a member of the Gadsden, Alabama chapter of the Ku Klux Koan, was charged with Moore's murder. A week later, a white college student named Sam Shirah led five black and five white volunteers into Alabama to finish Moore's walk. They were beaten and jailed. Four other attempts to complete the postman's quest were similarly stymied. Moore had kept a journal that detailed his goal. Using it, along with interviews and extensive newspaper and newsreel reports, Mary Stanton has documented this phenomenal freedom walk as seen through the eyes of Moore, Shirah, and the gunman, the three protagonists. Though all shared a deep love of the South, their strong feelings about who was entitled to walk its highways were in deadly conflict. Mary Stanton, an assistant public administrator of the town of Mamaroneck, N.Y., is the author of From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Lliuzzo. Her work has appeared in Southern Exposure, Gulf South Historical Review, and Government Executive.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Shadow History

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pp. xiii-xv

On April 23, 1963, Bill Moore, a white mailman, was shot dead on a highway near Attalla, Alabama. He was walking to Jackson, Mississippi, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to hand-deliver a plea for racial tolerance to Governor Ross Barnett. Floyd Simpson, a white Alabama grocer, was arrested and charged with Moore's murder. ...

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Part I: The Postman's Walk

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pp. 1-95

The spring air was warm, almost hot, when Bill Moore arrived at the Greyhound bus station on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga. It was nearly three o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, April 21, 1963. Moore looked like a lot of the men who came through the terminal that day—tall, middle-aged, white, heavyset, a little down on his luck. ...

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Part II: The Freedom Walk

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pp. 97-200

Fifteen hundred black citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, lifted their voices at the St. James Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday evening, April 23, 1963, to welcome Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., just returned from eight days in jail for defying an injunction against parading without a license. The midweek service was to honor the city's youth: college students, high school students, and other teens who'd been participating in nonviolent workshops, picketing against Jim Crow, and demonstrating in front of the downtown stores. ...

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Epilogue: Highway 11 Revisited

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pp. 201-208

In the spring of 20001 drove to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and down Highway 11 through Georgia and northeast Alabama to follow the trail of William Moore, Sam Shirah, and Floyd Simpson. I fully expected to travel through Dogpatch, and, as with most of the assumptions I had made when I set out to write this book, I was completely and absolutely wrong. ...

Appendix 1: The Walks and the Walkers

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pp. 209-210

Appendix 2: Timeline

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pp. 211-222


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pp. 223-234


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pp. 235-241


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pp. 243-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781604735413
E-ISBN-10: 1604735414
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578065059
Print-ISBN-10: 1578065054

Publication Year: 2003