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The Unsolved Murder of Civil Rights Activist Henry Moore AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Christmas night 1951 The Moores, Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriett had much to celebrate. The next day their daughter, Evangeline was to arrive at their home in East Central Florida in honor of the holiday. But, that night was also special for multiple reasons. Not only was it Christmas, but it was also their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, that night as the couple got into bed, their home was blown apart in an explosion meant to kill them.

Civil Rights Activists

The Moores were Civil Rights Activists. This wasn’t the first time they experienced hateful acts in reaction to their work. When they’d opened the Brevard County NAACP, they filed a lawsuit with the help of lawyer Thurgood Marshall. They wanted the state of Florida to pay teachers the same regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, the Moores were both fired from their jobs. Harriett had a teaching job and Harry was the principal at Titusville Colored School. Moore’s brought scrutiny and contempt from many groups who wanted to keep the south segregated.

Refusing to be silenced, Moore continued registering black voters and investigating Florida lynchings and founding NAACP branches. They lived visibly and unafraid. In an incident known as the Groveland Four, Moore continued to put his life on the line when he opposed Sheriff Willis McCall saying that the four [African American] young men accused of raping a white woman. Attorney’s discovered that the defendants were physically forced to confess and that the confessions did not hold up in a court of law. Sheriff Willis McCall was known for his racially charged behavior. So, when he shot one of the accused men in the case while transporting them, the U.S. Supreme Court demanded a retrial.

Moore Cultural Complex

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#HarryTMoore was born in 1905, in Houston, FL, a tiny farming community in the Panhandle. In 1925, 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. 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 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 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 ow

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Weeks before the Moore’s house was demolished, in 1951 there were multiple bombs in the area, likely the work of the KKK. His oldest daughter, Rosa Moore, tried to convince her father to leave the NAACP, especially after they fired him and he continued on a volunteer basis. She thought something might happen to him. Her father replied, “‘I’m trying to do what I can to elevate the Negro race. Every advancement comes by the way of sacrifice, and if I sacrifice my life or health I still think it is my duty for my race.” Ultimately, that is what happened.

Harry and Harriett were driven from Mims, Florida, to the nearest hospital a few towns over by a family friend, knowing an ambulance wouldn’t have driven them because they were African-American. Harriett died a day after she buried her husband, who died that night. Harry Moore was dubbed the first Civil Rights Martyr. The Moore’s death, a hate crime on Christmas night, put a mirror to the face of the South. The Moore’s had clearly been murdered and were victims of an improvised explosive device that was made with dynamite and was shoved beneath their bedroom floor.

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But the Moore’s lives were not in vain. In both their lives and death they pushed the Civil Rights Movement in front of the eyes of the nation. Today the Moore Cultural Complex in Mims holds a replica of their home and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History & Culture in Washington, D.C. displays offers a peek into their life.

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