Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

September 1963: Murder of Virgil Ware, as I Saw It–and Now See It


In my last post I provided an account of my “jail time.” In the following, I provide an account of the tragic death of Virgil Ware. You’ll see mention of Michael Farley, a man who has never admitted Virgil Ware was a complete innocent, hence my letter to Time Magazine.

Though they never published the letter, several weeks later they said a letter writer had opined that certain parties should contribute to a Virgil Ware Memorial Fund. I bring up these past tragedies because both were motivated by hate, and it seems as though some of those same tactics have recently been used. Hopefully, my posts will serve to remind how easily words can trigger violence.

September 23, 2003
Tim Padgett/Frank Sikora
Time Magazine

Dear Sirs:

On September 15, 1963 a friend and I were driving on the “lonely road” described in your September 22 story, “The Legacy of Virgil Ware.” We were approximately 200 feet behind the two young men on the motorcycle, close enough to hear the several shots ring out and to see Virgil Ware fall from the handle bars of the bicycle being peddled by his brother James Ware. I can assure you neither of the two boys had rocks in their hands nor did they do anything that might in the wildest stretch of the imagination be construed as aggressive. Motor scooter driver Michael Farley and shooter Larry Sims (both teenagers) were caught up in the almost unfathomable hate generated by adults on that horrible Sunday, and the Ware brothers paid the price.

The purpose of this letter is to ask if you might forward my thoughts to Larry Sims, but particularly to Michael Farley, who continues to insist forty years later that the Ware brothers had rocks in their hands, suggesting that there might be some justification for shooting 13-year-old Virgil Ware. I would like Mr. Farley to know there were eyewitnesses to the murder. I’d like to ask that Mr. Farley search his conscience further and that he find it within himself to stop trying to find some justification for his acts, for he is as culpable as Sims for the shooting. I’d like to ask that he somehow contact James Ware and let Mr. Ware know that he is right when he vehemently denies carrying rocks.

Sims and Farley both got off Scot-free and, as the remorseful adults they now profess to be, they should do something more to atone for Virgil’s death. Perhaps they could set up a Virgil Ware Scholarship Fund. It sounds as though they have the money to do so.

At any rate, if they respond in a way that at least exonerates the Ware brothers of carrying rocks, I’d like my slight participation in this matter to die here. If, however, Farley refuses to exonerate [he never has] Ware, then I’d like to be given the opportunity to submit some portion of the information here as an editorial.

In summary, my friend and I were first on the scene and watched Virgil Ware die from his shots; there was nothing we could do. We provided our eyewitness accounts and then returned to college at what is now the University of North Alabama. Surprisingly, we were never called to testify, but I can assure you this account is accurate and that it lives on 40 years later in my mind’s eye just as though it happened yesterday.

Thank you for your help–and for any suggestions you might have.




Though Farley never has admitted Ware was not carrying rocks (as though that would be a reason to kill someone), in fairness I’ve read that Michael Farley and shooter Larry Sims eventually came to regret Virgil’s death. In fact, they have spent a portion of their adult lives trying to atone.

The South has come of age, beautiful as ever, and offering profound lessons

The tranquility of the South, offering profound lessons, which some segments of society chose to ignore. Today, this region of the country remains one of my favorites and is where some of my very best friends now reside

At the time of the shooting Farley and Sims were young and impressionable, and their actions were motivated by the deep hatred that so permeated the area in 1963. Only a week before the bombing Governor Wallace had told the New York Times that to stop integration Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” Well, he got them. On that same Sunday, just a short distance away from Virgil Ware’s last bike ride, a member of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite under a church, killing four young girls attending The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.


Violence permeated the area around Birmingham, and that same day, 16-year-old Larry Joe Sims, an Eagle Scout, and his friend Michael Farley had attended a hate rally. Compounding matters, some black children had taken to throwing rocks at white people. And so, emotions swelled, and it is easy to see how such an atmosphere of intolerance can lead to destructive behavior. Sadly, some of these same tactics have been used in this presidential campaign. In fact, isn’t it symptomatic that just this past Monday two members of a Neo Nazis group were foiled in their efforts to initiate an assassinate attempt against Senator Obama?

And now, as we go into our final week before the election, it seems as though we should think about the two good men running for office–and not about some of the horrible rhetoric that has reared its head of recent. Such noise muddies the waters, preventing us from thinking rationally. Contrary to what Rush Limbaugh shouted on his rabble rousing talk show to incite his disciples, it is not “all about race!”

He was referring to the endorsement Colin Powell had just provided Barack Obama–and he (Limbaugh) had decided that to counteract the influence this much respected former Secretary of State might exert, that he should play the race card.


Though memories of Virgil Ware have dimmed, his death should provide a moving example of what can go wrong with society when we focus on the negative. At its very worst, it can have tragic consequences, and that’s something I will never forget…

Standing helplessly on a lonely highway I watched as Virgil Ware inhaled and then expelled all air from his body. And there, too, beside the now lifeless body of his brother, kneeled his teenage brother, James, tears streaming down his face. My regret is that I did not put my arms around the young boy, who appeared on the verge of shock.

Yes, Mr. Schieffer, we have come a long way (see last post), but sadly, it seems there are still elements in our society willing to use tactics from the ‘60s to achieve self aggrandizement, and to carry out their own political objectives without regard for others.


Ironically, we were visiting Harper’s Ferry, where Robert E. Lee squelched the John Brown uprising.


Unfortunately I have not read many books about the Civil Rights movement, but here are some I have read about the South, and events which led to the war to free the slaves. If you have not read these books, I highly recommend them.

4th ed. Autographed by the Authors

Hiking Shenandoah National Park

Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.

$18.95 + Autographed Copy

Big Sky Country is beautiful

Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State

Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.

$16.95 + Autographed Copy

What makes Glacier, Glacier?

Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent

Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons

$16.95 + Autographed Copy



6 Responses to “September 1963: Murder of Virgil Ware, as I Saw It–and Now See It”

  1. Susan Putnam Says:

    I recently heard a lecture by Detective Dan Jordan who worked the case in 1963. He had a lot of “white” help in apprehending the two boys involved. Sad to say, he mentioned that the two boys, after admitting their crime, were only in jail for three months. What an abomination, but it was the 60’s in Alabama. Thanks.

  2. Ben Burton Says:

    Certainly abominable on the one hand, but lest we forget, they were minors. The law was more lenient then. Strangest thing thoug…it’s liberal judges TODAY, who allow child molesters out in no time, to do it again. It’s libs who rail against the death penalty, but put abortion at the top of their to-do list. It’s pathetic.

    As for Rush Limbaugh’s “rabble rousing” to “incite his disciples,” that’s a big a crock as I’ve heard in ages. Those are the platitudes derived from believing the nonsense putout by the MSM. I defy ANYONE to sit with me, listen to his program, and THEN try to give credence to this crap. I’ve a masters in Bus. Admin. I’m NOBODY’S disciple, and it makes me want to puke to see where my beloved country is headed in the wake of lying liberals, many of whom are believed by those who don’t have a clue regarding the truth!

  3. Bert Says:

    You’re right, Mr. Burton, the judges and our legal system are different. Can you tell me why I was never called to testify? I was an eye witness, and remain amazed to this day that I was never asked to testify to a murder!
    Guess I’m one of those raging liberals ‘cause I was ecstatic two nights ago (February 17, 2009) when MSMBC proclaimed Russ Limbaugh “The Worst Man in the World.” The station based its thoughts on Pat Roberts’s comments, who said that we should hope Barack Obama succeeds. That opinion went contrary to the opinion expressed by Limbaugh, who also contains to espouse the same type of hate prevalent in the ‘60s. He’s divisive—and this is a time the country needs to unite.
    Bet I could take your challenge and emerge unscathed.

  4. sharon milien Says:

    this is a sad tragic

  5. Jeff J Says:

    I just learned about Virgil Ware at the Birmingham Civil Rights Instite where I read about this, saw a picture of Virgil and a picture of his grief stricken family. He’s not forgotten. Many people see this same thing daily.

  6. Bert Says:

    Thank you, Jeff J, for taking time to leave a comment. As you can imagine, the details of this tragedy remain vivid in my mind, even after all these years.

Leave a Reply