To those who knew him, Muhiyidin Elamin Moye was a man of many paradoxes.

He was a bold public figure whose private life was guarded. He spoke uncomfortable truths though they rarely translated into tangible progress. He galvanized a young generation of Charleston activists, but his strident and sometimes unorthodox protests made him unpopular in civic arenas. 

Moye was shot and killed in New Orleans on Feb. 6, an abrupt end for the 32-year-old African-American activist who defied propriety as he tried to shake up the Charleston area's status quo at a time when many were applauding the region for its response to a high-profile police shooting and a mass murder at a black church.

"Muhiyidin made us comfortable with asking the uncomfortable questions and acting in ways in which we feel uncomfortable," said Jon Hale, a College of Charleston civil rights and education professor. "I think his legacy is going to be someone who really shocked Charleston out of its complacency."

Often barefoot and dressed in a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt or dashiki, Moye, who used the last name d'Baha, was a regular at North Charleston City Hall, Charleston County School Board meetings and rallies in Marion Square. His life appeared to revolve around his activism.

Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Moye moved here when he was 13 and attended Academic Magnet High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of South Carolina, then a master's from Winthrop University.

He rose to prominence after the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man killed by a North Charleston police officer after fleeing a traffic stop. Moye introduced Scott's family to Feidin Santana, a young barber who captured a video of Scott's death on his phone.

Since then, Moye became the face of the Charleston-area Black Lives Matter movement, appearing in many media interviews as the national conversation on race in America swelled, with Charleston often at the epicenter.

Moye's moment in Charleston history will be preserved at the College of Charleston's Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, where archivists have started a file folder on Moye and are now collecting materials on his life and work — newspaper articles, photographs, personal correspondence. 

"We do this for any prominent, influential black Charlestonian," said Avery archivist Barrye Brown, who oversees the collection. "Just from the response alone, people are devastated ... by the loss of what seems like such a wonderful leader in the community and someone who was really, to me, like a force for change in Charleston."

'Such a polarizing figure'

For a piece in The New Yorker eulogizing his death, the writer Jelani Cobb called Moye "a complex, vexing, and, to his opponents and to some portion of his admirers, an exasperating figure."

Cobb described meeting Moye at a PBS town hall taping at Emanuel AME Church where an avowed white supremacist had murdered nine black churchgoers months earlier. Moye punctuated the event with shouts of "Black Lives Matter!" and "Black Power!" to the annoyance of the moderator, the late Gwen Ifill.

To be sure, Moye was a lightning rod for controversy. In 2016, he was arrested and forcibly removed from a North Charleston City Council meeting for speaking out of turn about a citizens' police review board.

A year later, he found fame on social media for leaping across police tape in an attempt to snatch a giant Confederate flag from a protester at a rally in downtown Charleston.

He even clashed with those who shared his politics, including some fellow activists who disagreed with his disruptive, boundary-pushing protests.  

"At times, Muhiyidin could be incredibly frustrating. He was frustrating to people on the left and the right and everyone in between," said Hale, who often ran in the same activist circles as Moye.

At school board meetings and other civic events, Hale said he could sense that white politicians were often uncomfortable with Moye's presence.

"You could see the fear in their eyes when Muhiyidin walked in a room," Hale said. "You didn't know what he was going to do, and conventional politicians and conventional organizers don't like that."

But Moye's disregard for civility was why many younger activists found him compelling.

"He just embodied two totally opposite sides of the spectrum, and that’s what made him such a polarizing figure," said activist Jonathan Thrower, who also goes by Shakem Amen Akhet. "He was able to express love and then, at the same time, he was able to express the rage, anger and the frustration that the young people were feeling during the time of police shootings and injustices." 

'He would not let people rest'

Liberty Hill, North Charleston's oldest surviving neighborhood, founded by freedmen around the end of the Civil War, was a fitting setting for a celebration of Moye's life, said the Rev. Nelson Rivers at his funeral on Feb. 15 at Royal Missionary Baptist Church. And it was apparent from his funeral that he had touched a diverse swath of people. A GoFundMe campaign for Moye's funeral and burial services raised almost $35,000.

The pews of the church were filled with more than 100 people, white and black, young and old. Longtime Charleston civil rights activists delivered tributes, including Thomas Dixon of The Coalition: People United to Take Back our Community and James Johnson of the National Action Network.

"He had the ability to take people out of the comfort zone they were in, in the space they were at, and draw them back to reality that this is not a cool world, this is not a world where everything is all right," Dixon said in his eulogy. "And he would not let people rest."

New Orleans Police are investigating Moye's death as a homicide. Detectives believe he may have been the victim of an attempted armed robbery. His friends and family have launched a GoFundMe campaign to provide a reward for anyone with information on his death.

Reach Deanna Pan at 843-937-5764 and follower her on Twitter @DDpan. 

Deanna Pan is an enterprise reporter for The Post and Courier, where she writes about education and other issues. She grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati and graduated with a degree in English from Ohio State University in 2012.