By: Davis Houck
A stalwart in the drive to bring northern students—white and black—to the Mississippi Delta in the 1960s, World War II veteran Amzie Moore is less well known for the vital role he played in the Emmett Till case. As the murder trial got underway in Sumner during the week of September 19, word got back to Mound Bayou surgeon, Dr. T. R. M. Howard, among others, that several black plantation workers had either seen Emmett Till on the back of a pick-up truck near Drew and/or they had heard screams coming from a seed barn on Sunday morning, August 28.
The problem the prosecution faced was two-fold: locating the workers and convincing them to testify; moreover, the trial had already started so time was of the essence.
On Tuesday, September 20, Moore, along with Mississippi National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Field Secretary, Medgar Evers, and NAACP Regional Director, Ruby Hurley, rendezvoused at Moore’s home in the western Delta community of Cleveland. Here they changed into workers’ clothes and swapped automobiles in order to be less conspicuous as they visited several area plantations in search of witnesses. No doubt Moore was the leader of this undercover threesome as Evers and Hurley were not native to the area, nor were they very familiar with the local plantations. They eventually located at least five witnesses to the Sunday beating, including 18-year-old black field-hand, Willie Reed, who gamely testified the following day in Sumner. It was Reed’s stunning testimony, corroborated by neighbor Mandy Bradley and his grandfather, Add Reed, that put Till and his captors in Drew and Sunflower County in the early morning hours of August 28. While the defense tried to discredit Reed as being too far from the seed barn to identify the lynching party, history has vindicated Reed’s unflinching testimony. Soon after the murder trial, Reed was re-located to Chicago and hospitalized from a nervous breakdown. He would live in Chicago the rest of his life.
Moore’s reputation as a fearless civil rights advocate soon spread to a new student-led organization in 1961, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). At the insistence of Ella Baker, Robert Moses sought out Moore for a possible voting rights project in Mississippi, the “belly of the beast” when it came to civil rights organizing. Moore gamely provided SNCC workers with food, shelter, and perhaps most importantly, contacts of key leaders who could be trusted with such a perilous mission. Without Moore’s courageous activism, SNCC’s remarkable campaign in Mississippi would have likely been very different. Moore died in 1982 at the age of 69.