One Monday in June, 79-year-old Charles Moore, a retired United Methodist minister, drove to Grand Saline, Tex., his childhood home town some 70 miles east of Dallas. He pulled into a strip mall parking lot, knelt down on a small piece of foam and doused himself with gasoline.
Then, witnesses said, he set himself on fire.
Bystanders rushed to help, splashing him with bottled water and beating the blaze with shirts. Finally, someone found a fire extinguisher. Unconscious, he was flown to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where JFK died. Moore died that night, June 23.
A copy of Moore’s suicide note lamented past racism and called on the community to repent. He called his death an act of protest and stated that he felt that after a lifetime of fighting for social justice, he needed to do more.
“I would much prefer to go on living and enjoy my beloved wife and grandchildren and others,” he wrote, “but I have come to believe that only my self-immolation will get the attention of anybody and perhaps inspire some to higher service.”
Moore grew up in Grand Saline, Texas, a town he said dripped with racial discrimination — a town the Ku Klux Klan called home. In his letter, he seemed haunted by the past:
“When I was about 10 years old, some friends and I were walking down the road toward the creek to catch some fish, when a man called ‘Uncle Billy’ stopped us and called us into his home for a drink of water — but his real purpose was to cheerily tell us about helping to kill ‘n—–s’ and put their heads up on a pole. A section of Grande Saline was (maybe still is) called ‘pole town,’ where the heads were displayed. It was years later before I knew what the name meant.”
It was this type of racial discrimination that Moore said haunted him.
“I will soon be eighty years old, and my heart is broken over this,” he wrote. “America (and Grand Saline prominently) have never really repented for the atrocities of slavery and its aftermath. What my hometown needs to do is open its heart and its doors to black people, as a sign of the rejection of past sins. … So, at this late date, I have decided to join them by giving my body to be burned, with love in my heart not only for them but also for the perpetrators of such horror.”