Harry T. Moore: Wikis


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Harry T. Moore
Born November 18, 1905(1905-11-18)
Houston, Florida, United States
Died December 25, 1951 (aged 46)
Mims, Florida, United States
Occupation Teacher, civil rights pioneer
Spouse(s) Harriet Vyda Simms Moore

Harry Tyson Moore (November 18, 1905–December 25, 1951) was an African-American teacher, and founder of the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County, Florida.

Moore became state secretary for the Florida chapter of the NAACP. Through his registration activities, he greatly increased the number of members, and he worked on issues of housing and education. He investigated lynchings, filed lawsuits against voter registration barriers and white primaries, and worked for equal pay for black teachers in public schools.

Moore also led the Progressive Voters League. Between 1944 and 1950, he succeeded in increasing the registration of black voters in Florida to 31 percent of those eligible to vote, markedly higher than in any other Southern state. Moore and his wife, Harriette Vyda Simms Moore, died as a result of injuries sustained after their home was bombed. The first NAACP activist to be murdered, Moore has been called the first 1950s-era civil rights martyr.


Early life

Harry Tyson Moore was born on November 18, 1905, in Houston, Florida, a tiny farming community in Suwannee County on the Florida Panhandle, the only child of Johnny and Rosalea Moore. His father tended the water tanks for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and ran a small store in front of their home.

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 store on weekends, but in 1915, she sent Harry to live with one of her sisters in Daytona Beach. The following year he was moved to Jacksonville, where he lived with three other maternal aunts: Jessie, Adrianna and Masie Tyson, of whom two were teachers and the third a nurse. [1] His aunts had a strong influence on him.

In 1919, Moore began his studies at Florida Memorial High School. Over the next four years, Moore excelled in his studies and joined the baseball team. He graduated in May 1925, and then went on to Bethune-Cookman College, where he graduated with a Normal Degree in 1936. Soon after, he accepted a teaching position in Cocoa, Florida. Later, Moore became the principal of the Titusville Colored School in Brevard County; Florida schools were then racially segregated. There he met Harriette Vyda Simms, (born on June 19, 1902). They married on December 25, 1926 and had two daughters, Annie Rosalea Moore (1928-1972) and Juanita Evangeline Moore (born in 1930).

Civil rights activism

Soon after the birth of their daughters, the Moores founded the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP, in 1934. Moore also helped organize the statewide NAACP organization. He pursued a variety of efforts for civil rights, including equal pay, investigation of lynchings, legal action against the all-white primaries, and voter registration in the face of discriminatory state laws. In 1937 he filed the first lawsuit in the Deep South to equalize salaries of black teachers with white teachers in public schools. Although this lawsuit failed, it led the way to other lawsuits that succeeded in gaining equal pay for black teachers.

After 1943, Moore became involved in reviewing every lynching case in Florida that involved black people. He took sworn affidavits from the families of victims; in some cases, he launched his own investigations.

In 1944 the NAACP won a major victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Smith v. Allwright that the Democratic Party's all-white primary in Texas and other states was unconstitutional. With the focus on voting, Moore led the Progressive Voters' League during the next six years in voter registration drives that succeeded in registering 116,000 black people, 31 percent of those eligible to vote in Florida. It was a major increase in black voters and the percentage was 51 percent higher than the proportion of blacks registered to vote in any other southern state.[2 ]

In 1946, the public school system fired the Moores and blacklisted them because of Harry's political activism. Moore then became a full-time NAACP activist, increasing the membership in the state to a peak of 10,000 in the next two years. He also pursued civil rights justice. NAACP membership in Florida fell sharply after the national office doubled the cost of individual dues to two dollars a year.[2 ] Later NAACP national president Walter White fired Moore from his state NAACP position because of disagreements over dues costs and the focus of his activities. The national organization wanted to concentrate on strategies to be used to wage legal challenges to segregation.

A Crime in Groveland

In July 1949, four black men were accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida and held in custody by law enforcement. Rumors accompanied the case, against a background of post-war tensions resulting from problems in absorbing veterans into jobs and American society. In Groveland, a white mob of more than 400 demanded that the sheriff, Willis V. McCall, hand the prisoners over to them. McCall claimed to have hidden the prisoners to protect them. The mob left the jail and went on a rampage, burning buildings in the black part of town. The governor had to use the Florida National Guard to restore order, which took six days.

Three of the four black men initially accused were arrested and charged. The fourth was killed by a police posse after escaping. Despite questionable evidence presented against them, the three black males were found guilty. A sympathetic jury sentenced sixteen-year-old Charles Greenlee to prison, while Sam Shepherd and Walter Irvin were sentenced to death.

As Executive Director of the Florida NAACP, Harry Moore organized a campaign against what he saw as the wrongful convictions of the three men. With NAACP support, appeals were pursued. In April 1951, a legal team headed by Thurgood Marshall won an appeal of Shepherd's and Irvin's convictions before the U.S. Supreme Court. A new trial was scheduled.

While transporting the prisoners, Sheriff McCall shot both handcuffed men. He claimed that they attacked him in an escape attempt. Irvin survived his wounds. Shepherd died at the scene. Irvin later claimed that the sheriff shot both him and Shepherd in cold blood. Harry T. Moore called for an indictment against Sheriff McCall, and urged Florida Governor Fuller Warren to suspend McCall from office.


On Christmas night, 1951, Moore and his wife were fatally injured at home by a bomb that went off beneath their house. It was the Moores' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Moore died on the way to the hospital in Mims, Florida. His wife died from her injuries nine days later.

Moore has been called the first martyr in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first NAACP official murdered in the civil rights struggle. The murders caused a national and international outcry, with protests registered at the United Nations against violence in the South. The NAACP held a huge rally in New York, where the renowned poet Langston Hughes read a poem written in memory of Moore.[3]

Although the state called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help the investigation, it was unable to bring any indictments against the suspects.

There were eleven other bombings against black families in Florida the year that Moore was killed.[4] The risk to activists and any blacks in the South was high and continued to be so. According to a later report from the NAACP's Southern Regional Council in Atlanta, the homes of forty black Southern families were bombed during 1951 and 1952. Some, like Harry Moore, were activists whose work exposed them to danger, but most were either people who had refused to bow to racist convention, or were simply "innocent bystanders, unsuspecting victims of random white terrorism."[5] For example, bombing was prevalent in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s, used by independent KKK groups to intimidate middle-class blacks moving into new neighborhoods.[6]

Legacy and honors

Langston Hughes read lines written in Moore's honor:

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.[7]
  • In 1952, Moore was posthumously awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, for outstanding achievement by an African American. Although the story of the Moores' lives receded into obscurity for years, the late 20th century re-opening of the case provided new appreciation for their work.
  • In 1999, Florida approved designation of the homesite of the Moores as a Florida Historical Heritage Landmark.[8] Brevard County started restoring the site.
  • By 2004 the county had created the Harry T. and Harriette Moore Memorial Park and Interpretive Center at the homesite in Mims.[9]
  • Brevard County named its Justice Center after the Moores and included material there about their lives and work.[10]

Recent developments

The state twice returned to the case but was unable to file charges, since most of the men whom it suspected in the crime had died. In 1999 journalist Ben Green published a book based on his research of the case: Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr. His research had gone deeply into FBI files. His book was followed by a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show about Moore's life.

In 2005 Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist re-opened a state investigation of Harry and Harriette Moore's deaths. On August 16, 2006, Crist announced the results of the work of the state Office of Civil Rights and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Rumors linking Sheriff Willis V. McCall to the crime were proven false. Based on extensive evidence, the state concluded that the Moores were victims of a conspiracy by members of a Central Florida Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The report named the following four individuals, all of whom had reputations for violence, as directly involved:

* Earl J. Brooklyn, a Klansman known for being exceedingly violent, was discovered to have had floor plans of the Moores' home and was recruiting volunteers. He died about a year after the attack, apparently of natural causes.

* Tillman H. Belvin, another violent Klansman, was a close friend of Brooklyn. He also died about a year after the attack, of natural causes.

* Joseph Neville Cox, secretary of the Orange County chapter of the Klan, was believed to have ordered the attack. In 1952, he committed suicide after having been pressed by the FBI during its investigation.

* Edward L. Spivey, another Klansman. As he was dying of cancer in 1978, he implicated Cox in the attack, and also claimed to have been at the crime scene in 1951.[11].

The Moores' only surviving daughter, Juanita Evangeline Moore, joined former Attorney General Crist in the efforts to uncover the identity of her parents' killers. She is a 1951 graduate of Bethune-Cookman College and a retired government employee.


  1. ^ The Legacy of Harry T. Moore, PBS Website
  2. ^ a b The Legacy of Harry T. Moore, Official PBS Website, accessed 6 May 2008
  3. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?" The Palm Beach Post, 16 August, 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  4. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?" The Palm Beach Post, 16 August, 1999
  5. ^ John Egerton, Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, pp. 562-563
  6. ^ Diane McWhorter, (2001). Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0743217721
  7. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?", The Palm Beach Post, 16 August, 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  8. ^ Florida House Speaker Byrd's 2004 Tribute to the Moores
  9. ^ Harry T. and Harriette Moore Homesite
  10. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?"The Palm Beach Post, 16 August, 1999
  11. ^ "Crist Announces Results of Harry T. Moore Murder Investigation", 16 Aug 2006, accessed 6 May 2008


  • Egerton, John. Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc: 1994) ISBN 0-679-40808-8. A history of the Southern men and women, black and white alike, who led the battle for civil rights prior to the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision.
  • Green, Ben. Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr (New York: The Free Press, 1999)

External links

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