Sieckert Helps Establish Memorial for Murdered Boys

Sheila Teker, Staff Writer

With the aid of English teacher Shannon Sieckert, an official state historical marker in the state of Mississippi honoring murder victims Henry Dee and Charles Moore was approved by the Department of Archives and History in January.

Henry Dee and Charles Moore, 19-year-old African American boys, were abducted, tortured, and thrown into the Mississippi River by members of the Ku Klux Klan on May 2, 1964.

The bodies of the 2 young men were found on June 12, 1964 by coincidence: The bodies were discovered by chance when fishermen saw something bobbing in the water and notified police. As the FBI was in the area already searching for 3 missing Civil Rights activists, they became involved in the discovery. While their bodies would be found buried in a ditch in August, the Mississippi River proved a watery grave: it was where Dee and Moore were identified. Thomas Moore, Charles Moore’s brother, had been upset that “nobody was looking for these 2,” and were only found by chance.

Moore said that when he stood by the graves of these 2 young men, he was aware of the ignorant reactions of others. This included other African Americans, but he noted that they were silenced by the terrorist group’s use of violence. He made a promise to himself and his family that he would find some way to honor Charles Moore and Henry Dee.

Thomas Moore, along with the Dee family, tried to establish a historical marker in Franklin County in both 2005 and 2007, after Franklin County failed to recognize the wrongs committed in the murder of these 2 youths. Moore recalled being contacted by a lawyer to sue the town, but he gave the citizens a chance to apologize for the atrocity. When they didn’t, Moore followed the lawyer’s advice — he still has yet to hear condolences.

According to Sieckert, “1 thing that mattered to [Thomas] intensely and also to Henry Dee’s family was to have the state acknowledge what happened to their family members.” Unfortunately, their efforts were rejected by both the state and county without any explanation. “So he and David Ridgen, the guy that made the podcast and the documentary [about the murders], put up their own. I think there are 3 that they made that they put up in front of the spot where [Henry Dee and Charles Moore] got kidnapped,” said Sieckert. Moore explained that the “1st marker put up fell due to rain, and the 2nd was torn down by someone else, but the 3rd currently stands.”

What initially spurred Sieckert to help the victims’ families put up their monument was her trip to the Montgomery Civil Rights Memorial during a Sojourn to the Past field trip in 2009. Sieckert said, “I thought of myself as an educated person related to the Civil Rights Movement, and I was really shocked because there were all these names on the wall, and I didn’t know who they were, and then I got angry – like why have I taken all of these specialized classes but I still don’t know these names?”

Sieckert began investigating the story of Henry Dee and Charles Moore, eventually telling her boss at Sojourn that, due to their story’s significance, it was essential that they asked Thomas Moore to be a speaker for the organization. After talking to investigative journalist David Ridgen, Sieckert was eventually connected to Moore, as Ridgen was close to him. After going on a Sojourn field trip together, Sieckert became closer to him, and learned more details about the murders. This is when she found out about his attempts to get a historical marker erected.

Sieckert recalled being infuriated by how the state would not acknowledge this Civil Rights case despite having markers for others, how the county members had been complicit in not prosecuting the murderers, and said to Moore, “‘I want to work on this with you, I’m going to figure it out.'”

Unfortunately, Sieckert and the 2 families encountered setbacks. They sent the draft for the monument in June 2019, and “it was just a lot of calling back and forth, and then a lot of silence and wait time.” She was eventually compelled to talk with officials at the State Department of Archives and History, who ultimately helped rewrite Thomas Moore’s draft in a manner that would be more appealing.

When put in front of the board in January 2o2o, 7 months later, it was approved. According to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, it takes about 3 months to manufacture the monument. Thomas Moore hopes to have it installed May 2, which is the 56th anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of the 2 youths.

“It’s honestly the least I can do for Thomas; it makes me mad; it’s no different to me than somebody who’s been killed and nobody’s acknowledged their pain – I think about him not knowing for 40 years what happened to his brother, and the whole county being complicit in not punishing the murderers,” said Sieckert.

Sieckert added that, not only will the marker honor the victims and their families, but it will also be a step for Mississippi. “It’s a super small town, I don’t know how many people will ever drive through and see it, or take time to read it, but I don’t care – it’s there. There’s some memorial to [Henry Dee and Charles Moore] that is not homemade, that is a state acknowledgement, that like, ‘In our state, terrorism happened.'”

US History and AP U.S. History teacher Lisa Herzig said, “[There] is a pattern in the South of lynching, which absolutely needs to be acknowledged. I can see the Southerners’ resistance to that type of acknowledgement, but it is a powerful 1st step. You can’t have reconciliation of a wrong done without acknowledgement.”

Sieckert still hopes to spread awareness of the civil right abuses. “Until the Legacy Museum opened in Montgomery, [and] the National Memorial, there was nothing in the United States, [but] in the South [there were] monuments to Confederate soldiers,” said Sieckert. “And they didn’t get put up right after the Civil War, they got put up in the 1920s and 30s. Why are they getting put up, right? You don’t go to Germany and see statues of Hitler honoring his contributions to German culture.”

1 of Sieckert’s English students, sophomore Jeanette Lavoie, said, “I think it’s interesting that Mrs. Sieckert was able to create something with Thomas that would impact other people, especially because the state is trying to deny that [the murders] ever happened. The monument being there commands people to face these events.”

Most significant for Thomas Moore is that this marker, even if it gets taken down, Mississippi is obligated to replace it — it is now their official duty, whether they agree with it or not, to present and honor the names of Henry Dee and Charles Moore. “This is what finally gives me peace and closure,” said Moore.