Madman or martyr? You decide ... retired minister sets self on f - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Madman or martyr? You decide ... retired minister sets self on fire in Grand Saline

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BY KENNETH DEAN, kdean@tylerpaper.com

Graphic copy alert: Accompanying this story is an image of Charles Robert Moore's suicide note, provided by Grand Saline Police. It contains graphic language.

GRAND SALINE – A 79-year-old Methodist minister who died after setting himself on fire on a busy street in this town of about 3,100 residents left behind a suicide letter asking the community to repent for its racism.

Charles Robert Moore, who had addresses in Allen and Sunnyvale, drove to Grand Saline on June 23, parked his vehicle in a Dollar General lot in the 500 block of East Garland Street, doused himself in gasoline and committed self-immolation, Police Chief Larry Compton said today.

“I have never seen anything like this in my entire career in law enforcement, which includes my years as an arson investigator for the Mesquite Fire Department," the 66-year-old chief said.

Horrified witnesses ran to the man and tried to put out the fire. Another witness then arrived with a fire extinguisher.

"They got the fire put out, and the man was transported to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where he later died of his injuries," Compton said.

Morris put a typed suicide note on his car windshield before he set himself on fire, the chief said.

In the note, which Compton provided to the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Morris – who is white -- stated he was born in Grand Saline and grew up around racial discrimination.

His letter claimed that the community shunned blacks and resorted to violence, including hangings, burnings and decapitations.

"I will soon be 80 years old, and my heart is broken over this,” Morris wrote. “America, and Grand Saline … 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.”

Morris wrote that visions of violence haunted him greatly.

"So at this late date, I have decided to join them by giving my body to be burned,” he wrote. “With love in my heart not only for them but also of the perpetrators of such horror ... "

Morris signed the letter, which was dated June 23.

Compton said the preacher’s death disturbed him. He added that while Grand Saline might once have been racially divided, today it is a community of acceptance.

"It might have been that way in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s like a lot of places, but today we are a community of different ethnicities and racial makeups," he said.

According to citydata.com, whites compose about 76 percent of the population, while Hispanics make up about 21 percent. The black population numbers fewer than 1 percent.

The Tyler Paper is continuing to work on this story and will have more details as they become available.

 

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