Charles Moore was born in Hackleburg, Alabama, in 1931. His place in history as a photographer documenting the Civil Rights Movement wasn't intentional. In 1958 he was working for the Montgomery Advertiser and just happened to be the only photographer present when Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested. His later friendship with King allowed him a front row seat to the events that made the world take notice and led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Moore was contracted by Life magazine to travel the south and cover events in the Movement. In addition to photographing police officers taking King to jail, Moore was also present at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith enrolled; in Birmingham, Alabama, when teenagers were sprayed with hoses and attacked by police dogs; in Selma, Alabama, on Bloody Sunday when peaceful protesters marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge; and at a North Carolina Ku Klux Klan rally.
It was difficult at times for Moore to expose his beloved south as violent and racist, but he took comfort in the fact that he was trying to change it for the better. The former boxer who said he didn't want to fight with his fists but with his camera told the Montgomery Advertiser in a 2005 interview: "I'm proud to say my photographs have helped to make a difference in our country and our society, and to show that we're all children of the same God."
Moore traveled outside the United States to photograph war and political violence in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Venezuela, and Vietnam. He died on March 11 at a nursing home in Palm Beach, Florida, from natural causes. A memorial service is planned for later this year.
Moore's photographs are included in the books Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore (1991) and The Mother Lode: A Celebration of California's Gold Country (1983). The Mother Lode is available through Interlibrary Loan. Moore is the subject of the documentary Charles Moore: I Fight With My Camera (2005).