Harry T Moore: Shadow Warrior

“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”

Langston Hughes

 

Who was the first martyr of the Civil Rights movement? Martin Luther King? Malcolm X? Medgar Evers? I asked several people outside Florida if they knew who Harry T Moore was and almost all had no clue. I once passed on an opportunity to attend an annual observation at his gravesite, his name and that of his wife Harriette meant nothing to me. I won’t miss next time. The Florida State Conference of the NAACP holds an annual memorial for Harry and Harriette Moore, I’ll update to include the dates when available for any interested in joining me.

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Both Moore’s were teachers in Brevard County, about 45 miles West of Orlando. Harry was active in the NAACP, becoming the Florida Executive Secretary. His weekends and whatever time he could spare was spent fundraising, speaking and soliciting memberships. In 1946, both Moore;s were fired from their teaching jobs of twenty years, due to Harry being labeled a “troublemaker and Negro organizer.” The nearest employment Harry could find as a teacher was in Palm Beach County, two hours to the South. They rented a room in a private home while maintaining the 3-bedroom home Harry had built in Mims, Florida. That home sat in the middle of 11-acres of land, set deep in an Orange Grove.

Years earlier, Harry had sent a letter to the National office of the NAACP, informing them of plans to sue Brevard County Schools for equal pay for black teachers. This got the attention of lawyer Thurgood Marshall who came to Florida several times regarding the case, often staying with the Moore’s as there were few hotels a black man could stay in. Harry Moore was as soft-spoken as Marshall was gregarious yet they made a good pair. To offset his own dry speaking manner, Harry trained his teenaged daughter Evangeline to exhort the crowds after his more stoic message.

Moore became involved in another case with Marshall. One involving four Groveland, FL black men, falsely accused of the rape of a white woman. Moore used this case to raise funds throughout the state and wrote letters, incessantly. He wrote local papers, local politicians, and he wrote the Governor. Florida had more lynchings per capita than any other state and Harry T Moore would not keep quiet, he wouldn’t let it be. He organized protests, conducted mass meetings, and gave speeches. He was a pain in the ass to those who wanted the notoriety to die.

In the “Groveland Four” case, two of the defendants were convicted and sent to the Florida State Prison in Raiford, FL. After Marshall won them a new trial. Sheriff Willis McCall was transporting them back to Groveland when he pulled over, ordered both prisoners out and shot both men, killing one. His deputy pulled up, found one man still living and shot him a second time. The man survived to tell his story. It is of note that the FBI withheld ballistic evidence that would have proven those events but the Sheriff was exonerated and continued his reign of terror another 21 years before losing an election, under investigation for the murder of yet another black prisoner.

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On Christmas night in 1951, Harry and his immediate family had dinner at his brother-in-laws before returning home about 9pm. At 10:20pm, after everyone had settled in their beds, when a bomb placed below Harry and Harriette’s bedroom went off. The children and their grandmother were alright. They found Harry and Harriette in their bedroom covered with debris. The family rushed them to a medical facility in Sanford, FL. Harry’s head bleeding into his mother’s lap.

Harry was declared dead on arrival. Harriette recovered enough to visit her husband’s body at the funeral home, then succumbed herself. She had told an Orlando Sentinel reporter, “There isn’t much left to fight back for” and “My home is wrecked. My children are grown up. They don’t need me. Others can carry on.”

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In his last letter to Governor Fuller Warren, Moore wrote:

“We seek no special favors, but certainly have a right to expect justice and equal protection of the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?”

There was no justice for Harry Moore. The FBI initially closed the case in 1953 and it was reopened multiple times over the years. In 2006, Governor Charlie Crist declared the case solved, blaming four dead Klansmen. He acknowledged having “no new evidence” yet indicated they were the most likely perpetrators. Some believed Sheriff Willis McCall to be behind the bombing but the truth will likely never be known. Between 1951-1952, 40 black homes were bombed throughout the South. Many refused to bow to racist traditions, some were innocent bystanders. Harry T Moore was denied the recognition he deserved in his lifetime and even after his death. He was a true Shadow Warrior.

Each month, Enigma In Black will feature a new Shadow Warrior. We highlight people and organizations doing great work that have yet to receive national recognition. Don’t miss any by following this page.

Please share so that we can bring these Warriors out of the shadows! I’d love to hear your suggestions for future Warriors which you can leave in the comments section.

Past Warriors:

The Dreamers

Zain Jacobs

George Cooper

Aramis Ayala

Dr. Crystal A. deGregory

Kelly Hurst

The Wilson Academy

Sevgi Fernandez

 

The Fuller Warren Bridge: Monument to Racism

Racists monuments are not limited to Confederate statues. In Jacksonville, FL a massive bridge carrying 8 lanes of I-95 across the St. Johns River bears Fuller Warren’s name and the weight of his racism. As a former Governor of the State, having lived in and practiced law in Jacksonville and having championed the Interstate road system in Florida. He was a natural choice for the naming honor. As an avowed segregationist who usurped justice, condoned murder and aided the Klan… perhaps not.

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Redemption came easy in those days. Outed as a “former” member of the KKK, three months into his term as Governor. He admitted his folly as a youth and pointed to his service in WW2 where he fought Nazis, “first cousins to Klansmen,” coming back with a new perspective. He did speak out against the Klan when they paraded in the streets of Tallahassee less than a month after his election. Like family members you choose not to acknowledge, showing up at your new job.

Truthfully, almost all elected officials in Florida at the time were at minimum segregationists and the bridge had to be named after somebody. There was that impeachment thing where he was almost ousted because of his ties to gambling and using State resources to target one of the rivals of his Al Capone linked gambling buddy from Chicago. The House refused to impeach him so that went away.

I fault him for abdicating his duty to remove Sheriff Willis McCall despite knowing he murdered an innocent black man in his custody and attempted along with one of his deputies to kill another. On the eve of his planned action, he met secretly with McCall who reminded him of all that he knew and might say. Already facing impeachment related to gambling, he overlooked those charges and failed to take action. Sheriff McCall went on to stay in office another 23 years, killing at least one other black prisoner and participating in the bombing assassination of Civil Rights leader Harry T. Moore. Behind the scenes, he blocked state investigations and allowed the reign of terror of Willis McCall and others during his term.

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After his term as Governor from 1949-1953, Warren moved to Miami, running again for Governor in 1956, promising to “maintain segregation” in the state. As Governor he used the National Guard to suppress Black citrus workers. His legacy will be that he stood by, ignoring pleas to use his office to fight racial oppression instead of condoning it. One of the pleas he ignored was the last letter written by Harry T. Moore before they murdered him and his wife:

“We seek no special favors, but certainly we have a right to expect justice and equal protection under the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?

Respectfully yours,

Harry T. Moore”

State officials knew full well who the late Fuller Warren was when the new $100 million bridge was named in 2001. Was it because they didn’t care about his past or because of it?