Harry T. Moore

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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, were killed by Ku Klux Klan bombers who blew up the Moores' home on Christmas night 1951.[1] The Moores were the first NAACP members to be murdered for their civil rights activism; Moore has been called the first martyr of the 1950s-era civil rights movement.

In the early 1930s 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.

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

In 1941, Mr. 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 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][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.

A Crime in Groveland[edit]

Main article: Groveland Case

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.[4] 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 district of town. The governor deployed 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 while fleeing. Despite questionable evidence presented in court the three black males 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 Sheriff McCall shot both handcuffed men. He claimed that they attacked him in an escape attempt. Shepherd died at the scene. Irvin survived his wounds; he later claimed 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.


On Christmas night, 1951, Moore and his wife were fatally injured at home by a bomb that went off beneath their house, in Mims, Florida. It was the Moores' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. 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 against the suspects. (In 2005, the Florida Attorney General's office re-opened the case; see below).

There were eleven other bombings against black families in Florida in 1951, the year the Moores were killed.[6] 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."[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]
  • 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 Heritage Landmark.[10] 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.[11]
  • Brevard County named its Justice Center after the Moores and included material there about their lives and work.[12]
  • Harry T Moore Ave in Mims, FL is named after him.
  • Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Post Office, Cocoa, Florida, named in their honor in 2012.

Recent developments[edit]

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.[1]

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. ^ a b "Crist Announces Results of Harry T. Moore Murder Investigation", 16 Aug 2006, accessed 6 May 2008
  2. ^ a b 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. ^ http://bnreview.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Reviews-Essays/Devil-in-the-Grove-Thurgood-Marshall-the-Groveland-Boys-and-the/ba-p/7301
  5. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?" The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  6. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?" The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ "Who Was Harry T. Moore?", The Palm Beach Post, 16 August 1999, accessed 6 May 2008
  10. ^ Florida House Speaker Byrd's 2004 Tribute to the Moores
  11. ^ Harry T. and Harriette Moore Homesite
  12. ^ "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 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)
  • 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]