Harry T. Moore

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Harry T. Moore
Harry Tyson Moore.jpg
Undated photo of Harry T. Moore
Born (1905-11-18)November 18, 1905
Houston, Florida, United States
Died December 25, 1951(1951-12-25) (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, founder of the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County, Florida, and a pioneer leader of the civil rights movement in Florida and the southern United States.

Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette Vyda Simms Moore, also a teacher, were killed in a bombing of their home on Christmas night 1951. Forensic work in 2005-6 resulted in the naming of the probable perpetrators as four Ku Klux Klan members, all long dead by the time of the investigation.[1] The Moores were the first NAACP members to be murdered for civil rights activism; Moore has been called the first martyr of the early stage of the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1896–1954).

In the early 1930s Moore had become 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. Following a 1944 US Supreme Court ruling against white primaries, 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. In 1946 he and his wife were fired from the public school system because of his activism; he worked full-time for the NAACP.

Civil rights activism[edit]

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 for public school teachers, investigation of lynchings, legal challenges to the all-white primaries run by the Democratic Party, and voter registration practices under discriminatory state laws. From 1900-1930, Florida had the highest rate of lynchings in the Deep South.[2]

In 1937 Moore 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 affidavits from the families of victims; in some cases, he launched his own investigations.

In 1941, Moore was named president of Florida's NAACP. 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; 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 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][3] 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.

Groveland case[edit]

Main article: Groveland Case

In July 1949 four black men were accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida. Ernest Thomas fled the county and was killed by a posse; the other three were arrested and beaten while held in custody, forcing two to confess. Rumors accompanied the case against a background of post-war tensions resulting from problems in absorbing veterans into jobs and American society.[4] In Groveland a white mob of more than 400 demanded that the sheriff, Willis V. McCall, hand the prisoners over to them for lynching. McCall had hidden the prisoners to protect them. The mob left the jail and went on a rampage, burning buildings in the black district of town. McCall asked the governor to send in the National Guard, but they needed six days to restore order.

The three young men, one only 16, were found guilty by an all-white jury. The judge sentenced sixteen-year-old Charles Greenlee to prison; Sam Shepherd and Walter Irvin were sentenced to death.

Executive Director of the Florida NAACP Harry T. 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 the appeal of Shepherd and Irvin's convictions before the U.S. Supreme Court. A new trial was scheduled.

While transporting Shepherd and Irwin to the new trial venue in 1951, Sheriff McCall claimed the two handcuffed men attacked him in an escape attempt. He shot them both, and Shepherd died at the scene. Irvin survived his wounds; he later claimed to NAACP and FBI officials that the sheriff shot both him and Shepherd in cold blood. Harry T. Moore called for an indictment against Sheriff McCall and called on Florida Governor Fuller Warren to suspend McCall from office.


Six weeks later on Christmas night, 1951, a bomb went off beneath the house of Moore and his wife in Mims, Florida. It was the Moores' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They were fatally injured; Moore died on the way to the hospital in Sanford, 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.[5]

The state of Florida called the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help with the investigation, but no indictments were brought. There were rumors that McCall was involved in the bombings but no evidence has been found to support that allegation. (In 2005, the Florida Attorney General's office re-opened the case, naming four suspects long involved in KKK activities; see below).

In 1951 eleven other black families in Florida had suffered bombings.[5] The risk to civil rights 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."[6] 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.[7]

Legacy and honors[edit]

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.[8]
  • 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, since the late 20th century, interest in them has been revived by books and a new investigation of their murders.
  • In 1999, Florida approved designation of the homesite of the Moores as a Florida Heritage Landmark.[9] 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.[10]
  • Brevard County named its Justice Center after the Moores and included material there about their lives and work.[11]
  • Harry T Moore Ave in Mims, FL is named after him.
  • 2012, the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Post Office in Cocoa, Florida was named in their honor.
  • 2012, State Road 46 in Brevard County was designated as the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Highway by the Florida Legislature.
  • 2013, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame at the Florida Capitol.

21st century investigation[edit]

The state twice returned to the Moore murders 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 in 2000 by a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) show about Moore's life, Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore.

In 2005 Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist re-opened a state investigation of Harry and Harriette Moore's deaths. The Moores' only surviving daughter, Juanita Evangeline Moore, encouraged Crist in the efforts to uncover the identity of her parents' killers.

Forensics teams combed the former site of the Moores' house for evidence; it is now within a memorial park. 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.[1] 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:[1] * Earl J. Brooklyn, a Klansman known for being exceedingly violent, had floor plans of the Moores' home and was recruiting volunteers for an attack. 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 of natural causes about a year after the attack. * Joseph Neville Cox, secretary of the Orange County, Florida chapter of the Klan, was believed to have ordered the attack. In 1952, he committed suicide after having been pressed with questioning and investigation by the FBI. * Edward L. Spivey, also in the KKK. As he was dying of cancer in 1978, he implicated Cox in the attack, and claimed also to have been at the crime scene in 1951.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "Crist Announces Results of Harry T. Moore Murder Investigation", 16 Aug 2006, accessed 6 May 2008[dead link]
  2. ^ a b c The Legacy of Harry T. Moore, Official PBS Website, accessed 6 May 2008
  3. ^ "NAACP History: Harry T. and Harriette Moore". NAACP. Retrieved 25 December 2013. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ a b "Who Was Harry T. Moore?" The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Diane McWhorter, (2001). Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution, New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-1772-1
  8. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?", The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  9. ^ Florida House Speaker Byrd's 2004 Tribute to the Moores
  10. ^ Harry T. and Harriette Moore Homesite
  11. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?"The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999


  • 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 v. Board of Education decision that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
  • Green, Ben. Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr (New York: The Free Press, 1999)
  • Sweet Honey in the Rock recorded a song, "The Ballad of Harry Moore," based on Langston Hughes' poem. A version is available via Video on YouTube.

External links[edit]