The story

Harry T. Moore

Harry T. Moore

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Harry Moore was born in Houston, Florida, on 18th November, 1905. After the death of his father in 1914 Moore was sent to live with his mother's sister in Daytona Beach. The following year he moved to Jacksonville where he lived with another of his aunts, Jessie Tyson.

In 1919 Moore began his studies at the Florida Memorial College. After graduating he became a schoolteacher in Cocoa, Florida. He later became principal of Titusville Colored School in Brevard County.

Moore established the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1934. With the support of the NAACP attorney, Thurgood Marshall, Moore led the campaign to obtain equal pay for African Americans working in Florida's schools. Moore also began organizing protests against lynching in Florida.

In 1944 he formed the Florida Progressive Voters League which succeeded in tripling the enrollment of registered black voters. By the end of the Second World War over 116,000 black voters were registered in the Florida Democratic Party. This represented 31 per cent of all eligible black voters in the state, a figure that was 51 per cent higher than any other southern state.

Moore's successful campaigns had made him unpopular with powerful political figures in Florida and in June 1946 he was dismissed from his teaching job. The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People responded by appointing Moore as its organizer in Florida. Moore was a great success in this role and by 1948 the NAACP had over 10,000 members in Florida.

In 1949 Moore organized the campaign against the wrongful conviction of three African Americans for the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Florida. Two years later, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Soon afterwards, Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County, shot two of the men while in his custody. One was killed and other man was seriously wounded.

After the shooting Moore called for the McCall's suspension. A month later, on 25th December, 1951, a bomb exploded in Moore's house killing him and his wife. Although members of the Ku Klux Klan were suspected of the crime, the people responsible were never brought to trial.

In July 1949, the Groveland rape burst upon the national scene, after four young black men were accused of raping a white woman. A white mob went on a rampage through Groveland's black neighborhood, and the National Guard had to be called out to restore order.

Once again, Moore threw himself into the case. After uncovering evidence that the Groveland defendants had been brutally beaten, Moore leveled those charges against the most notorious lawman in the country: Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County.

Groveland defendants Walter Irvin, Sammy Shepherd, and 16-year-old Charles Greenlee were convicted in 1949, and Irvin and Shepherd were sentenced to death. In April 1951, however, Irvin and Shepherd's convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court; Lake County immediately prepared to try them again. On November 6, 1951, while Sheriff McCall was driving two of the defendants, Walter Irvin and Sammy Shepherd, back to Lake County for a pre-trial hearing, he shot them, killing Shepherd and critically wounding Irvin. McCall claimed that the handcuffed prisoners had attacked him while trying to escape. Irvin claimed that McCall had simply yanked them out of his car and started firing. The shooting created a national scandal. Harry Moore began calling for McCall's suspension and indictment for murder.

Terrorists planted a bomb under the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Harry T. Moore, Negro residents of Mims, a small town north of Miami. Moore was killed instantly. His wife died after a week of suffering. Even though Mrs. Moore said she had a "good idea" who planted the bomb, neither the local police nor Governor Warren's special investigator Elliott nor the F.B.I. bothered to take any statement from her before she died.

Moore was a two-fisted saintly fighter for democracy, who throughout his life was in the forefront of the struggle of his people for a greater measure of justice. at the time of his death he was not only state secretary of the N.A.A.C.P. but also leader of the Progressive Voters League of Florida.

Harry T. Moore - History

Harry T. Moore was born on November 18, 1905, in Houston (Hous-ton), Florida, a tiny farming community in Suwanee County, in the Florida Panhandle. He was the only child of Johnny and Rosa Moore. His father tended the water tanks for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and ran a small store in front of the house.

Johnny Moore's health faltered when Harry was nine years old, and he died in 1914. Rosa tried to manage alone, working in the cotton fields and running her little store on weekends, but in 1915, she sent Harry to live with one of her sisters in Daytona Beach. The following year, he moved to Jacksonville, where he spent the next three years living with three other aunts: Jesse, Adrianna, and Masie Tyson.

This would prove to be the most important period in his formative years. Jacksonville had a large and vibrant African American community, with a proud tradition of independence and intellectual achievement. Moore's aunts were educated, well-informed women (two were educators and one was a nurse), who took this spindly, intelligent boy into their house on Louisiana Street and treated him like the son they'd never had. Under their nurturing guidance, Moore's natural inquisitiveness and love of learning were reinforced.

After three years in Jacksonville, he returned home to Suwanee County, in 1919, and enrolled in the high school program of Florida Memorial College. Over the next four years, Moore excelled in his studies, earning straight As, except for one B+ he was even nicknamed "Doc" by his classmates.

In May 1925, at age 19, he graduated from Florida Memorial College with a "normal degree" and accepted a teaching job in Cocoa, Florida-- in the watery wilderness of Brevard County.

Building a Family and a Career

He spent the next two years teaching fourth grade at Cocoa's only black elementary school. During his first year in Brevard County, he met an attractive older woman (she was 23, while he was barely 20), named Harriette Vyda Simms. She had taught school herself, but was currently selling insurance for the Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Within a year they were married.

Her family lived in Mims, a small citrus town outside of Titusville. The newlyweds moved in with Harriette's parents until they built their own house on an adjoining acre of land. Meanwhile, Harry had been promoted to principal of the Titusville Colored School, which went from fourth through ninth grades. He taught ninth grade and supervised a staff of six teachers.

In March 1928, their eldest daughter, Annie Rosalea, nicknamed Peaches, was born. When Peaches was six months old, Harriette began teaching at the Mims Colored School. On September 30, 1930, their "baby daughter," Juanita Evangeline, was born.

Moore Joins the NAACP

In 1934, Harry Moore started the Brevard County NAACP, and steadily built it into a formidable organization. In 1937, in conjunction with the all-black Florida State Teacher's Association, and backed by the NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall in New York, Moore filed the first lawsuit in the Deep South to equalize black and white teacher salaries. His good friend, John Gilbert, principal of the Cocoa Junior High School, courageously volunteered as the plaintiff. Although the Gilbert case was eventually lost in state court, it spawned a dozen other federal lawsuits in Florida that eventually led to equalized salaries.

By 1941, NAACP work had become Moore's driving obsession. In 1941, he organized the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, and soon became its unpaid executive secretary. He began churning out eloquent letters, circulars, and broadsides protesting unequal salaries, segregated schools, and the disenfranchisement of black voters.

Moore's Fight for Equal Rights

In 1943, he moved into an even more dangerous arena: lynchings and police brutality. At first, his protests were confined to letters to the governor, but he quickly threw himself directly into lynching cases, taking sworn affidavits from the victims' families and even launching his own investigations. From that point until his death, Moore investigated every single lynching in Florida.

In 1944, Thurgood Marshall won a major victory in the landmark Smith v. Allwright case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the "lily-white" Democratic Party primary was unconstitutional. Harry Moore immediately organized the Progressive Voters' League, and in the next six years, due primarily to his leadership, over 116,000 black voters were registered in the Florida Democratic Party. This represented 31 percent of all eligible black voters in the state, a figure that was 51% higher than any other southern state.

In June 1946, Moore paid a terrible price for his political activism, as he and Harriette were both fired from their teaching jobs. Realizing that he would be blacklisted from teaching, Moore took a bold step: he became a full-time, paid organizer for the Florida NAACP.

During his first two years, he built the Florida NAACP to a peak of over 10,000 members in 63 branches. In January 1949, however, the NAACP national office doubled annual dues from $1 to $2, and membership plummeted all over the country. Florida followed suit, dropping to 3,000 members in the next year. Moore and the national office began having increasing disagreements over his political activities and his full-time status.

Moore and the Groveland Rape Case

In July 1949, the Groveland rape burst upon the national scene, after four young black men were accused of raping a white woman. A white mob went on a rampage through Groveland's black neighborhood, and the National Guard had to be called out to restore order.

Once again, Moore threw himself into the case. After uncovering evidence that the Groveland defendants had been brutally beaten, Moore leveled those charges against the most notorious lawman in the country: Sheriff Willis McCall of Lake County.

Groveland defendants Walter Irvin, Sammy Shepherd, and 16-year-old Charles Greenlee were convicted in 1949, and Irvin and Shepherd were sentenced to death. In April 1951, however, Irvin and Shepherd's convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court Lake County immediately prepared to try them again. On November 6, 1951, while Sheriff McCall was driving two of the defendants, Walter Irvin and Sammy Shepherd, back to Lake County for a pre-trial hearing, he shot them, killing Shepherd and critically wounding Irvin. McCall claimed that the handcuffed prisoners had attacked him while trying to escape. Irvin claimed that McCall had simply yanked them out of his car and started firing. The shooting created a national scandal. Harry Moore began calling for McCall's suspension and indictment for murder.

The Murder of Harry T. Moore

Only six weeks later, on Christmas Day 1951, Moore himself was killed when a bomb was placed beneath the floor joists directly under his bed. Moore died on the way to the hospital his wife, Harriette, died nine days later.

The protests over the Moores' deaths rocked the nation, with dozens of rallies and memorial meetings around the country. President Truman and Florida Governor Fuller Warren were inundated with telegrams and protest letters.

Despite an extensive FBI investigation, however, and two later investigations, the murders have never been solved. Harry Moore was the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle, and he and Harriette are the only husband and wife to give their lives to the movement.

Became School Principal

Meanwhile, he had begun teaching in the segregated black school system of Brevard County. At his first post in the town of Cocoa, he met his future wife Harriette, and the two settled in her family ’ s hometown of Mims, near Titusville. Moore quickly advanced to become a junior high school principal in Titusville, remaining there from 1927 to 1936 after that he served as principal and taught fifth and sixth grades in Mims. Moore would remain an educator until he lost his job in retaliation for his political activities in 1946.

The cheery tourist industry associated with Florida in the public mind has obscured the fact that race relations in the state for much of the 20th century were grim. Between 1900 and 1930 Florida had more lynchings per capita than any of the other Deep South states upon which the attention of reformers was focused, and the basic elements of the long struggle for civil rights were late in coming to the state. The 1923 massacre of much of the black population of Rosewood weighed heavily on black residents ’ minds, and when Moore established a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County in 1934, he was a courageous pioneer.

Harry T. Moore

The year was 1951, and America was in its post-World War II recovery era. Ration restrictions were lifted, families were united after years spent apart and consumerism skyrocketed the economy. Decades of depression, and America was apparently looking good, feeling good. But that same America is the one that’s also in this headline “Hate Bomb Kills NAACP Secretary.”

The fight for democracy and freedom abroad may have ended, but the fight for freedom and equality stateside never did. Harry Tyson Moore was the leader of the NAACP in Florida. He and his wife were killed by a bomb that was placed under their home by members of the Ku Klux Klan on Christmas night in 1951, which was also their 25th wedding anniversary. That headline is about them.

Harry and his wife, Harriette, dedicated their lives to creating better schools, ensuring voting rights for Black people and putting an end to lynching in Florida. However their deaths didn’t mark the end of their legacies. In the years that followed, the social justice tenets they pushed for gained more widespread support. Their deaths caused “Uproar(s)” of protests, mailed letters to public officials, and newly created art like Langston Hughes’ “Ballad of Harry Moore” from which the following verse comes:

And this he says, our Harry Moore,

As from the grave he cries:

No bomb can kill the dreams I hold

Society was stirred, and with this week’s shuffle we dive into the story of why Harry and Harriette Moore inspired such a response…as well as this present-day playlist. Harry says press play:

Harry T. Moore was an educator, organizer and leader who empowered his students, teachers and members of the African-American community in Florida to unite together in their fight for equality throughout the 1930s and 1940s — years before the turbulent days of the later Civil Rights Movement. Harry was born in Houston, Florida, on November 18, 1905, to Johnny and Rosa Moore. His father owned a small shop and worked for the railroad while his mother assisted with the shop and worked in the cotton fields of the farming community. This panhandle town not yet hit by a pandemic and public outcry against closed beaches was his home until he was sent to live with his three aunts in Jacksonville. His father passed away when he was nine years old. Struggling to make ends meet as a single mother, Rosa felt her son would have a better, more supported life with his educated aunts in Jacksonville, which was a hub for African-American culture.

It was a city of Floridians who had come a long way from what Jacksonville once was and that was a home for people whose wealth depended on the labor of enslaved people — just like its namesake, Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. Because it was a port city, its urban environment meant that the enslaved were not so much working on plantation fields. Rather, they were working at sawmills and wharves, for example. Some owners rented out their enslaved people to help load and unload ships — sometimes loading themselves onto a ship amongst the cargo in an attempt to escape.

By the time a young Harry arrived in Jacksonville, it was booming with African-American communities and businesses. Eventually, this city came to be known as the ‘Harlem of the South’ and had the likes of Zora Neale Hurston walk and talk in its streets. So, Harry shows up to live with his three aunts, Jesse, Adrianna and Masie Tyson, who were all well-educated and took him in with open arms. His aunts, two of whom were teachers, encouraged him to do well in school and fall in love with learning.

At 19, he graduated from Florida Memorial College and embarked on his education career. His first job was teaching fourth graders in Cocoa, Florida, at its only Black elementary school. During his two-year stint there, he became enamored with a pretty, slightly older woman: Harriette Vyda Simms, who was 23 (he was about 20). He said, “Harriette Vyda, you give me vida.” And the rest was history. They viva la vida’d happily ever after. OK, maybe he didn’t say that, but the two got married in 1926 and moved into her parents’ home in Mims, Florida, a small citrus town about an hour east of Orlando. Harry continued to teach, and was later promoted to principal of the Titusville Colored School, which served fourth through ninth graders.

In 1928, Harriette gave birth to their first daughter, Annie Rosalea, AKA Peaches. Harriette returned to the teaching world when Peaches was six months old, taking a job at the Mims Colored School. Then, in 1930, she gave birth to their second daughter, Juanita Evangeline. As the young family further cemented their lives in their Florida home, Harry started a chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County. In 1937, three years after the chapter’s founding, Harry partnered with Thurgood Marshall and the Florida State Teachers Association to file a lawsuit in an effort to equalize teachers’ salaries, no matter their race. It was the first lawsuit of its kind to emerge in the deep south.

Although Harry lost the case, it paved the way for dozens of other similar lawsuits that eventually resulted in equalized salaries. By the early 1940s, Harry had begun to throw all his weight behind his chapter of the NAACP as he protested and petitioned for equal salaries, desegregated schools and voting rights for Blacks. And then, he went even deeper into the darker depths of racism that persisted in society.

The U.S. has a long history of lynching Black people, and nowhere is that more true than in Florida. According to the author Tameka Bradley Hobbs, lynchings in Florida continued longer than anywhere else in the country. In the 19th century, lynchings were a spectacle. They took place during the day, and many people would come out to the town square to observe. By the 1940s, lynchings were carried out long after the sun had gone down by small, secretive groups. But the results remained the same: Black people who dared challenge white supremacy and question the status quo were killed at the hands of angry White mobs and no justice was served.

Enter Harry: he was determined to bring justice to the families of lynching victims and, until the day he was killed, he investigated every single lynching that he was aware of in Florida. Oftentimes he wrote letters about these lynchings that pushed for change and complete riddance of lynching. One to the Florida delegates read, “We cannot afford to wait until the several states get “trained” or “educated” to the point where they can take effective action in such cases. Human life is too valuable for more experimenting of this kind. The federal government must be empowered to take the necessary action for the protection of its citizens. We need a federal government with ‘teeth.’” He called for action and wasn’t answered.

And, no good deed goes unpunished. In 1946, both Harry and Harriette were fired from their jobs as teachers. Realizing that the Southern schools that surrounded him would never hire again him as a teacher, he took a leap of faith and threw all of his efforts behind the Florida NAACP and became a paid full-time organizer. Two years into the job, he grew the Florida NAACP to over 10,000 members. However, those numbers plummeted when the national NAACP headquarters raised annual dues from $1 to $2. With less money to work with and fewer members to support, Harry had a tough time keeping his job.

But he never shied away from the fight especially when it came to activism for anti-lynching. In 1949, four Black men by the names of Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were accused of raping one white woman, Norma Padgett. One of the four men ran away in an attempt to escape arrest, but was later found in the woods and murdered by a lynch posse. The remaining three were detained by infamous and heartless Sheriff Willis McCall.

As the leader of the NAACP in Florida, Harry organized a campaign against what he saw as the wrongful accusations of the three men. This also meant that he was going up against Sheriff McCall and this put an astronomical target on his back by the white supremacist community. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually, after two years, overturned the convictions of the Groveland Boys and ordered a retrial. It was Sheriff McCall’s job to transport two of the men from one jail to another. However after stopping to check a flat tire and to let the men use the bathroom, he shot both Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin after claiming that they attacked him. Samuel died. Walter survived, but served life in prison. Harry Moore actively called for Sheriff McCall’s suspension. Once again he wrote letters, but ran out of time. Harry lost his job as the NAACP Director in Florida. He was a man ahead of his time with a forward-thinking agenda that pressured leadership to respond to injustice. Though fired, his work didn’t end. Sadly, one month later, his life did.

On Christmas Day in 1951, Harry and Harriette were home celebrating the holiday and their 25th wedding anniversary. Suddenly, as they were asleep, a bomb exploded and their house went up into pieces. The nearest hospital was 30 miles away. Harry died in the car on the way there. Harriette lived nine days longer, dying in the hospital on January 3, 1952. Their deaths made the front pages of newspapers around America. The FBI investigated this death for years, and gained no traction. The murder of the Moores was never solved. He was the first NAACP official killed in the Civil Rights fight.

Harry T. Moore mobilized his community. During his leadership, he helped register thousands of African-Americans so they could vote, demanded and succeeded in calling for equal teacher pay and tirelessly wrote for an end to lynchings in the state of Florida. His momentum did not die with the bomb that was heard around the world. It expanded and the Civil Rights movement progressed forward.

“Every advancement comes by way of sacrifice. Freedom never descends upon a people. It is always brought with a price.”

Two Very Different Men, Part I: The Quiet Fire of Harry Tyson Moore

It’s ten o’ clock on Christmas night, 1951. Four people in a small “shotgun” house in the citrus town of Mims, Florida—former schoolteachers Harry and Harriette Moore, Harry’s mother, Rosa, and the Moores’ daughter Annie Rosalea (“Peaches”)—have retired for the night. Their presents are still unopened, awaiting the arrival of daughter Evangeline from Washington, D.C. About twenty minutes later, neighbors describe hearing a terrific blast. Harry’s brothers-in-law, George and Arnold Simms, are among the first to arrive on the scene. The master bedroom of the house is completely demolished, Harry and Harriette trapped under a pile of debris. There will be no family Christmas for the Moores this year.

“Why have I never heard of him before?” I wondered during a lunch and learn presentation at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando, FL earlier this year. The “him” in question was Harry Tyson Moore: schoolteacher and principal, activist, NAACP official, and “the first Civil Rights Movement martyr.” Born in the tiny farming community of Houston in the Florida Panhandle in 1905, Harry graduated from Florida Memorial College (now University) in 1925 and accepted his first teaching position shortly thereafter. Within three years he was married to Harriette Vyda Simms and a father to Annie Rosalea, called “Peaches.” A second daughter, Juanita Evangeline, followed two years later.

Harry T. Moore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Moore had simply followed the path of husband, father, and schoolteacher/principal, I wouldn’t have gone last week to get a closer look at a man rescued from almost complete obscurity by Ben Green’s 2005 biography, “Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr.” But Harry was a man with a quiet but unquenchable passion for improving the lot of his race, even as he knew it would likely cost him his life: a quest that led him to form the Brevard County NAACP and build the Florida branch of the organization to over 10,000 members within two years to investigate every lynching in Florida for the last eight years of his life to fight for equal pay for black teachers and, most famously, to dive into the Groveland rape case of July 1949, which attracted national attention. The lunch program was a little more brief than I expected, but I heard enough to decide that a visit to the Harry T. and Harriet V. Moore Memorial Park and Cultural Center was in order. So last Friday I took a holiday from work and headed for the small town of Mims. . .

The day could not be more perfect and I’m glad to be out in the sunshine, driving down S.R. 46 through large stretches of unpopulated trees and ponds on either side. I find the Center with no trouble and am greeted at the front door by staff assistant Bessie Johnson, who begins by showing me a quilt donated to the Complex, a portrait of the Moores by Gail Bishop, and an award-winning poster collage of letters, telegrams, photos, and a vintage typewriter such as Harry might have used for his correspondence, before turning me loose in the main exhibit room. On display here are more historical photographs, besides homely items such as Harriette’s bean pot, bottles that look like those of old patent medicines found on the property, original newspapers with the stories of the bombing and the couple’s deaths. A copy of a funeral hymn, a funeral program. A posthumous award. I snap pictures of what I can, take notes. Shake my head more than once. Whisper, “Unbelieveable” several times as I learn that:

  • The average annual salary for a white teacher in 1940 was $1,133 for a black teacher, $569.
  • In June 1946, Harry’s activism cost both him and Harriette their teaching jobs. They were not offered contracts for the following year but the official record stated that they resigned. Moore had been warned by the Brevard County Superintendant to cease his political activities.
  • Miami NAACP leader Clarence McDaniel brought wilted flowers from Miami to Harry’s funeral service, because no local florist would deliver to a black man’s funeral.
  • His brother-in-law, George Simms, helped check the church for bombs prior to the funeral.
  • A white man who viewed the wreckage of the Moore’s small frame cottage remarked, “That’s one [racial slur] who will keep his mouth shut.”

Harry Moore died on the way to the hospital, in a car because the only local ambulance company would not transport blacks. Harriette, given a “fifty-fifty chance” of survival, left the hospital against her doctor’s advice to view her husband’s body at the funeral home. Returning to the hospital afterward, she succumbed to a blood clot on January 3. Decades later, the Moore’s shattered home has been rebuilt to look as it did when they lived there. With Bessie again serving as my guide, I step into a peaceful time warp: life-sized mannequins of the Moores are at a round table in the main room, with Harry looking up from scattered papers that represent his correspondence. Because he liked music, a piano is at the right. Off the front room are three smallish bedroooms: Harry and Harriette’s with its tiny closet, their daughters’, and Rosa’s. Next is a bathroom with an old-fashioned chain-pull toilet, then a small, enclosed porch off the kitchen. It’s a charming little house on a lovely spread of land that includes orange trees referred to by Harry as “Florida Gold” for his and Harriette’s retirement. I snap more pictures as Bessie waits patiently. As I tell her goodbye, I ask if I can take her picture as well. She’s a little surprised, a little hesitant: “My picture on your blog? Oh, I don’t know!” She gives me a hug instead. Then I’m off to the LaGrange/Mims Cemetery, about five minutes away, to pay my final respects to the Moores.Thanks to Bessie I find their headstone almost immediately. The day is quite warm, but I linger at the grave site for several minutes on a bench, taking in the peace. I have the place to myself, silent except for the occasional passing car, the woman talking to the driver of the motorcycle they share. The grave is well tended. The couple’s epitaph, partially shielded by an artificial flower arrangement, reads: “In memory of those who gave their lives.” Rosa Moore had understandably been concerned for her son’s safety. Before going to bed on the last night of his life, he told her: “Every advancement comes by way of sacrifice. What I am doing is for the benefit of my race.” The identities of those responsible for the bombing will not be revealed until 2006, when Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist reopens the case and the names of four members of the Ku Klux Klan—by that time all deceased—are made public.The Moores lie undisturbed in their final sleep, their earthly work ended but not forgotten. I sit a little longer, thinking about courage, about sacrifice. There is the slightest touch of breeze. At last I say thanks, and goodbye, and head back down the road to keep another appointment in another small town, at another final resting place—this time of a man who could hardly be more different, but who has proved just as memorable.

The Moores’ story is too full to be told in a single blog post. If you’re interested in finding out more, a few good places to start are listed below. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me here next week for Two Very Different Men, Part II:The Strange Journey of Lewis Thornton Powell. See you then!

Meet Harry and Harriette Moore: Central Florida’s civil rights pioneers

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. &mdash The civil rights movement started in Central Florida with the murder of Harry and Harriette Moore in 1951 in Brevard County.

It’s often overshadowed by the work of activists in other southern states.

“Harry and Harriette Moore was truly two icons before their time. He was the most hated Black man in the state of Florida,” Sonya Mallard said.

Mallard works alongside Carshonda Wright at the Harry and Harriette Moore Cultural Complex. Both spoke with us about their extensive knowledge of the history of the Moore family.

“Harry T. Moore saw the unfairness in the school system. Black teachers was making like real less money compared to their white counterparts so he spoke up, said something,” Mallard said.

They lived in Mims, a rural part of Brevard County, and taught in segregated public schools in the county from 1925 to 1946.

“From the governor’s office all the way down, that said he was a troublemaker, agitator, he was mobilizing these Blacks,” recalled Rev. Randolph Bracy, the former president of the Orange County NAACP and longtime pastor.

Mr. Moore was so smart in school that others jokingly called him “Doc” because he excelled in his studies. He decided to become a teacher because he figured it was a good way to effect change. He got his first teaching job in Cocoa.

Mrs. Moore’s mother gave them land, which is currently where the cultural complex is located, alongside a yellow replica home depicting where the Moores built their home.

“She [Mrs. Moore] was a willing participant in going out and making sure that everything was going to be equal so that her girls would have the same opportunity in education, in getting jobs that everyone else in American had,” Mallard said.

During that time everything was segregated. Rev. Bracy said inequality was the norm.

“Say for instance if you had come out with a bachelor’s degree and you were white you made $10,000. If you were Black, you made $4,000 to $5,000,” Bracy said.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones asked Mallard why more people don’t know their story.

“It’s not in our history books, nobody is sharing it. It’s like they don’t like to bring the skeletons out the closet, we don’t want to put a tarnish on our town, our state. But that’s what happened,” Mallard said.

As the Moores continued to fight for equality through education, another movement was also gaining reinvigorated momentum – the Ku Klux Klan.

“What they’re [KKK] doing is coming to power in companies, in the police department in the government and they’re secretly having this organization and meetings to systematically suppress people who are not like themselves, i.e. Black people,” Wright said.

By 1934, Moore had started the Brevard County NAACP, leading a movement to open branches across the state. And then, with the help of NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, Moore filed the first lawsuit in the south on behalf of Black teachers in Brevard County for equal pay, while he and his wife were still working for the school district.

“After that first lawsuit they lost their jobs, they say they resigned, they were really pushed out and then he became the first unpaid secretary for the NAACP,” Mallard said.

Moore lost that lawsuit, but it encouraged others to litigate similar cases across the state. And at the same time, Moore had taken on another fight: voting and police brutality against Blacks.

“You have a Black man who was able to register 116,000 people to vote in Florida, not only register them but exercise that right, that changes the political climate. Now on top of changing the political climate he’s going after people for criminal action,” Wright explained.

Locals advocated to have the Brevard County School Board reinstate the Moores.

The people he called criminals then were local law enforcement officers, and others in the community who made up white supremacist groups like the KKK. Moore penned many letters to the governor pleading for investigations into lynchings in Black communities.

When he got no help, he investigated each case himself.

“Florida has an infamous history especially in the ’30s ’40s it was the lynching capital, per capita, of the country not Mississippi, not Alabama, not Georgia,” Bracy said.

The Equal Justice Institute documented 314 lynchings in Florida between 1870 and 1950. Moore’s work had the attention of white people in power, but he didn’t fear death. He grew bolder, and got involved in the Groveland Four case in Lake County, mincing no words when he demanded then-Sheriff Willis McCall be indicted for murder for his role in leading brutal attacks against the four wrongly accused Black men, even shooting two of them, killing one.

Weeks after Moore called for McCall to be indicted, the KKK made their way to his home in Mims. It was Christmas Day and the Moores’ wedding anniversary.

“They saw when they turned off the lights, and they crawled under the house like a snake, they lit the dynamite and that’s when it blew up. They said that was the loudest bomb heard around the world,” Mallard said.

The hospital in Brevard County refused to treat Harry and Harriette Moore because they were Black. Harry died on the way to a hospital in Sanford, his wife died nine days later. Both left behind a legacy that led to the civil rights movement.

“He was fighting against lynchings, police brutality, equal pay, right to vote, all of those things he saw in the 1930s, ’40s, would be pivotal things, that would change America the fact that those are things we are still looking at now goes to show you how forward thinking he was, he was a man before his time,” Wright said.

The Harry and Harriette Moore Cultural Complex is located in Mims and is open to the public for tours.

Murder and legacy

Six weeks later, on Christmas night, a bomb exploded under the bed of Harry and Harriette Moore. It was the couple's 25th anniversary. The first-ever NAACP official to be assassinated, Harry died on the way to the hospital, while Harriette died in the hospital nine days later.

Despite a nationwide outcry and a massive FBI investigation, no one was arrested for the couple's killing. It took more than half a century before the case was reopened and four Ku Klux Klan members were identified as being directly involved in the murders.

Langston Hughes composed a poem, "The Ballad of Harry Moore," in the wake of the couple's death, and in 1952, NAACP awarded Harry the Springarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American.

After the initial outcry, the couple's story faded from history for a few decades but interest in their lives enjoyed a revival in the 21st century. Several landmarks in Brevard County bear their name, including a park, a justice center, a highway, and a post office. Their home was also declared a Florida Heritage Landmark.

Harry T. Moore, Black Educator Hall of Fame Member

Harry T. Moore, like many Black educators in the Hall of Fame, put his life on the line for the equal rights of Black people. Moore was born in Florida on November 18, 1905. Nicknamed “Doc” because of his good grades at Florida Memorial College high school program. At 19, he accepted a teaching job at an all-Black school (Titusville) in Cocoa, Florida, where he met his wife, Harriette Sims.

Moore eventually became the principal of the Titusville school, an all-Black school focused on providing educational justice for their students. In addition to being an educator, Moore was an activist, launching the Brevard County NAACP in 1934 and with the backing of Thurgood Marshall, filed the first lawsuit in the Deep South to equalize the teaching salaries of Black and white teachers. Although the case was dismissed, it became the foundation for future successful suits throughout the United States for the same cause. Moore’s activism didn’t end with fighting on behalf of Black teachers.

Like the great educator that he was, he both taught young people and used his activism to make the world fairer for them. Moore, channeled his activism through the NAACP. He protested segregated schools, the disenfranchisement of Black people, and even more dangerous, police brutality and lynchings. Sadly, Black teacher activism is/was looked at as a threat and often, attempts were made to silence them. Moore’s activism costs him his job, but Moore was not deterred. As Dr. Chris Emdin often says, you can choose to do damage to Black children or the system itself. Moore chose to do damage to the system and transitioned to work for the NAACP full-time.

Like today’s Stacey Abrams, LaTosha Brown and DeJuana Thompson, Moore was responsible for registering voters. Due to a landmark case won by Thurgood Marshall, Moore successfully registered 116,000 Black Florida voters to the Florida Democratic Party from 1944 to 1950, representing nearly a third of all Black registered voters. Moore is also responsible for building the Florida NAACP at that time to a membership of 10,000 people.

Harry Moore used his platform to investigate lynchings as well as criminal prosecutions against Black people deemed unlawful and unfair, like the case of three Black men accused and convicted of raping a white woman. Due to Moore’s investigatory efforts that found evidence he levied against law enforcement, two of the three defendants had their convictions overturned by the Supreme Court. However, the county sheriff killed those two individuals whose convictions were overturned while transporting them to another hearing in court. Moore called for that sheriff’s dismissal and indictment. Weeks later, Moore and his wife were both murdered due to a bomb placed under their bed.

Moore died on the way to the hospital Harriette died nine days later. They left behind two daughters. This murderous act of terrorism was waged against the Moores on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Many consider the Moores as the first martyrs of the organized Civil Rights Movement.

As educators, we can fall victim to the mentality that our job begins and ends at the school building engaging in education beyond that window may become too costly. But education is costly. We often give of ourselves in various ways as educators. It’s wise to count the cost, but we mustn’t be cheap. Moore wasn’t cheap. He gave his life for the education and liberation of Black people.

Harry T. Moore, a member of our Black Educator Hall of Fame.

For more information on Harry T. Moore, visit the following site.

On Christmas night 1951, a bomb exploded under the Mims home of educator and civil rights activist Harry T. Moore. The blast was so loud it could be heard several miles away in Titusville.

Moore died while being transported to Sanford, the closest place where a black man could be hospitalized. His wife Harriette died nine days later from injuries sustained in the blast.

The couple celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary on the day of the explosion, and Harriette lived just long enough to see her husband buried.

The Moore’s daughter, Juanita Evangeline Moore, was working in Washington, D.C. in 1951, and was scheduled to come home for the holidays on December 27th, aboard a train called the Silver Meteor . She did not hear the news about her family home being bombed until she arrived.

“ When I got off the train in Titusville, I knew something was very, very wrong,” Moore said in an interview before her death in October 2015. “I had not turned on radio or television, so I didn’t know a thing about it until I got off the train. I noticed that my mother and father were not in front of all my relatives to greet me and they were always there.”

Moore was given the news by her Uncle George, who was home on leave from Korea.

“ We got into his car and got settled, and the first thing I asked was ‘Well, where’s Mom and Dad?’ No one said anything for a while, it was complete silence. Finally, Uncle George turned around and he said ‘Well, Van, I guess I’m the one who has to tell you. Your house was bombed Christmas night. Your Dad is dead and your Mother is in the hospital.’ That’s the way I found out,” said Moore.

“ I’ve never gotten over it. It was unbelievable.”

Moore insisted on being taken to her parent’s home. The blast had done extensive damage. She saw a huge hole in the floor of her parent’s room, into which their broken bed had collapsed. Wooden beams had fallen from the ceiling. Shards of broken glass covered the bed in the room she shared with her sister, Peaches.

Harry T. Moore was born November 18, 1905, in Houston, Florida, located in Suwannee County. At age 19, Moore graduated with a high school diploma from Florida Memorial College where he was a straight-A student, except for a B+ in French. Other students called him “Doc” because he did so well in all of his classes.

Moore moved to Mims in 1925 after being offered a job to teach fourth grade at the “colored school” in Cocoa. He met Harriette Vida Sims. They married and had two daughters. Moore, his wife, and both of their daughters graduated from Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona.

As a ninth grade teacher and principal at Titusville Negro School, Moore instilled in his students a sense of pride and a solid work ethic. A popular and skilled educator, Moore was fired for attempting to equalize pay for African American teachers in Brevard County.

Moore led a highly successful effort to expand black voter registration throughout the state, dramatically increased membership in the Florida branch of the NAACP, worked for equal justice for African Americans, and actively sought punishment for those who committed crimes against them.

“ I do remember a lot of NAACP work with my Dad from the time I was able to understand what was going on,” said Juanita Evangeline Moore. “I helped him a lot with his mailing lists. We had a one-hand operated ditto machine. He usually typed out the stencil and he ran off whatever material he wanted to send out.”

Although the murders of Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore have never been solved, it is believed that members of the Ku Klux Klan from Apopka and Orlando planted the bomb on Christmas night.

Moore and his wife were killed 12 years before Medgar Evers, 14 years before Malcolm X, and 17 years before Martin Luther King, Jr., making them the first martyrs of the contemporary civil rights movement.

The Moore Cultural Complex in Mims features a civil rights museum and a replica of the Moore family home.

Who Was Harry T. Moore?

Civil Rights Activist Harry T. Moore Was Murdered In 1951 Because He’d Become Too Successful At Exposing Injustice And Getting Blacks To VOTE So Why Have We Never Heard Of Him?

TITUSVILLE—On Christmas night, 1951, in a lonely orange grove near Mims, there was an explosion beneath the little wooden house where civil rights activist Harry T. Moore was sleeping with his wife and family.

The blast was so powerful it flung the house off its foundations. Moore and his wife, Harriette, died of concussion and internal injuries after being flung up against the ceiling so violently a hole the size of an egg was knocked through the pine boards. His mother and daughter, Peaches, survived. His second daughter, Evangeline, was away from home that night.

Moore’s murder caused a national and international outcry. Protests were registered at the United Nations. The FBI was called in to investigate. The state of Florida, where 11 other race-related bombings had occurred earlier that year, found itself the focus of outrage and opprobrium for its treatment of blacks.

The NAACP held a huge rally in New York City, at which poet Langston Hughes read verses he had composed to honor Moore:

Florida means land of flowers
It was on a Christmas night
In the state named for the flowers
Men came bearing dynamite.
It could not be in Jesus’ name
Beneath the bedroom floor
On Christmas night the killers
Hid the bomb for Harry Moore.

Moore was lost to history

Yet the memory of Moore’s remarkable life and violent death gradually faded over the near half-century since his murder. In a state filled with newcomers, few know who Moore was, what he achieved, how he died. His name does not appear on the monumental civil rights fountain in Montgomery, Ala., where Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and other martyrs are honored. Scarcely any civil rights histories mention him.

All that is changing now because of a new book by Tallahassee scholar Ben Green and a new PBS documentary on Moore’s life to be broadcast in February, narrated by Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. A monument to Moore has been set up in Mims, and two government buildings in Brevard County have been named for him.

My interest in him began in 1991, when the case was reopened. I’d never heard of him, confessed Green, whose Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr, was published this year by Free Press.

My immediate reaction was: `I’m from Florida. Why haven’t I heard of this guy? Maybe it’s because I’m a white man,’ or so I thought at first. But later on, I discovered thousands of black Floridians had never heard of him either.

By combing through the Florida archives, the papers of former Gov. Millard Caldwell, the Truman presidential library in Independence, Mo., and—a huge stroke of good luck—the complete, unexpurgated FBI file of the case, a copy of which happened to be in the possession of the Orange County State Attorney’s Office, Green gradually reassembled the extraordinary back-story of Moore’s career and its horrific end. It’s an astonishing tale, one that does not reflect great credit on the state of Florida in the first half of this century.

Open Klan activities

Green scrolls back to a landscape where trees are hung with the strange fruit of lynchings, where the Ku Klux Klan holds festive daylight rallies and barbecues in Orange County, where black defendants are railroaded to Raiford for alleged rape and shot by the sheriff beside a lonely highway at night, while en route from the prison for a new trial.

A former schoolteacher, a quiet, an earnest, persevering man who was not a spellbinding orator, but who wore out automobile tires and shoe leather traveling the state on behalf of the NAACP, Moore was tireless in pursuit of equal justice for blacks.

He had great faith in the American dream, Green said. In the 1930s, he was telling black schoolchildren about democracy and the right to vote, in a state that still had the poll tax and where blacks were effectively prohibited from voting. Nothing could have stopped him.

It was Moore’s campaign on behalf of the Groveland Four, four black youths accused under murky circumstances of raping a white woman in Lake County in July 1949, that made him known throughout the state. One was shot to death in Madison County in a manhunt. The other three were tried in Tavares and found guilty. Two were sentenced to death. The fourth, just 16, was given life in prison. All said confessions had been beaten out of them by sheriff’s deputies.

When the two condemned men won a new trial, Lake County Sheriff<< Willis McCall escorted them back to Tavares, down lonely Highway 146. There, under mysterious circumstances, one was shot dead and the other gravely wounded, allegedly while trying to escape.

Dropped by NAACP

While the Groveland case dragged on, Moore found himself unexpectedly betrayed by his own organization, the NAACP. The NAACP wanted to raise dues. Moore warned blacks could not afford higher dues and would simply abandon the organization. The NAACP went ahead anyway, and Moore was proved right. His reward was to be stripped of his position as state secretary and taken off the official mailing list of the organization.

Whipsawed by friends and enemies alike, Moore kept on working quietly, organizing and traveling, writing letters, protesting.

Then, suddenly, he was murdered in a clap of thunder when a dynamite bomb beneath his house exploded in the night on Dec. 25, 1951.

Despite an exhaustive FBI investigation that lasted months, no one was ever arrested for the murders. But Green has painstakingly examined the evidence and has found the probable killer and the probable motive.

The man who arranged Moore’s murder was most probably Joseph Neville Cox, the secretary of the Orlando chapter of the Ku Klux Klan, who organized a handful of Klan head-knockers, as they were called, arranged to purchase dynamite (which in those days was sold in many hardware stores in Florida) and have it placed beneath Moore’s bedroom. Cox committed suicide the day after being closely questioned by the FBI. An associate revealed Cox’s role in the murder years later, on his deathbed.

Watch the video: Can Can (August 2022).