Civil Rights Activist returns to Donaldsonville

In the church there's the concept of restorative justice where the victims and the perpetrators reconcile and come together to share their experiences, forgiving each other for whatever pain they might have caused at the time. Ronnie Moore, a Civil Rights Activist in the 1960's, shared that concept at the Old Donaldsonville Jail on Monday where he sat imprisoned on August 28, 1963, the day of the historic March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the “I Have A Dream” speech. “It's a growing movement in the country, restorative justice,” Moore said as he sat in the same cell he did some 50 years ago. Moore, along with Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley and his wife Linda, met in agreement to reflect on Moore's time spent in the Donaldsonville Jail. Linda Wiley's father, Hickley Waguespack, served as the Ascension Sheriff during the time of Moore's arrest. “I was 13 at the time and I do have vague memories of those times and how hard it was,” Linda Wiley said to Moore. “I remember my dad leaving home and sometimes worrying about him because I wasn't sure of exactly what was going on.” Sheriff Waguespack was a good guy, Moore said to Linda Wiley. “He made things hospitable and as pleasant as he could,” Moore said. Moore ended up in the Old Jail in Donaldsonville after being arrested for doing a voter registration drive in Plaquemine. He said the sixth congressional district was the focus of the voter education project and “we were supposed to remain on voter education but the movement took a shift that led us to demonstrations and ultimately being arrested.” Moore, who served as the Secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.) in 1963, four others shared the cell – including the President of C.O.R.E., James Farmer. Farmer was scheduled to speak at the March on Washington but didn't make it due to being held imprisoned in Donaldsonville. However, Sheriff Waguespack still afforded the five men an opportunity to watch the march on TV in the cell. “He said he'll do whatever he could to see if we could see it,” Moore said. Students from Ascension Catholic High School and Donaldsonville High School came in the cell to interview Moore, as the River Road African American Museum brought Moore for the students to learn. “It's a rare opportunity for us to be able to commemorate Dr. King's Holiday like this and it really is a momentous occasion for us all,” Kathe Hambrick-Jackson said, Founder of the RRAAM. Sheriff Wiley congratulated the museum hosting Moore in Donaldsonville and said to Moore, “thank you.” “There are millions like me who thank you for the 2014 America, while not perfect, much better than it was then,” Sheriff Wiley said to Moore. Sheriff Wiley said as a white kid in the 1960s and knowing a little bit about the movement he likes the fact that “we reflect on and how tragic and horrible these things were and need to be in the front page of our history books for our kids.” “But also a simple act of kindness is also being commemorated today which is a sheriff, a white man who kind of in the early 60's understood it was bigger than him and bigger than us,” Sheriff Wiley said about Sheriff Waguespack. “And that a simple act of humanity, just treating people with grace and who better to come here today and share that than Mr. Moore who laid his head in this very cell.” In Moore's journey and during the 1960's, he said he discovered the “purpose of my birth.” He said it wasn't an accident, they were in jail eight years after Emit Till was lynched, and “we were here at God's will.” But also, Moore thinks the country is changing for the good and said there is a new generation of people who is going to make everything all right. “There should be a commitment of excellence being the best you can be at anything you do,” Moore said, “you're never too young to serve.” “In order to get the service you have to answer the question what do you see? Each person should pursuit a purpose based on a passion and recognize only you will see it.” Moore continues to serve even at the age of 73. His fight now is to decrease Louisiana's incarceration numbers, which has the highest in the nation. “We have to do something about rehabilitation,” Moore said.” We have 9,000 men with life sentences in the state and I think my work is cut out.” Hambrick-Jackson added, “Thank you for the courage it took for you to stand up for justice and freedom for us all, thank you Mr. Moore.”