Harry T. Moore Biography

Civil Rights Activist (1905–1951)
Harry T. Moore was an early civil rights leader and founder of the NAACP chapter in Brevard County, Florida. He was murdered, along with his activist wife, by a bomb planted in their house on Christmas Day in 1951.

Who Was Harry T. Moore?

Harry Tyson Moore (November 18, 1905 to December 25, 1951) was a teacher and activist for the rights of African Americans. He was killed when his house was bombed, an attack likely prompted by his civil rights work (his wife, Harriette Simms Moore, was also injured in the blast and died days later, making them the only married couple killed during the fight for civil rights). A Florida native, Moore organized local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and later headed the state's NAACP conference. He helped to register tens of thousands of black voters, assisted in lawsuits challenging aspects of "separate but equal" education and fought against systemic racial violence. Despite multiple investigations, the Moores' murderers have never been officially identified.

Christmas Day Bombing

At 10:20 p.m. on December 25, 1951, a bomb exploded underneath the Moores' bedroom in Mims, Florida. The blast was powerful enough to be heard miles away and sent Moore's bed crashing into the ceiling. Moore was left injured, but still alive.

No ambulance in the area would carry a black man to the hospital and the closest facility — in Titusville — did not accept black patients. Instead Moore was taken by car to Sanford, a journey of 30 miles; he died somewhere along the way. The explosion also injured Moore's wife, Harriette; she passed away on January 3, 1952.

Moore's funeral was held on January 1, 1952, with the church getting checked for explosive devices before the service. Flowers were supplied from Miami because no local florist would help. In 1952 Langston Hughes wrote the commemorative poem "The Ballad of Harry T. Moore" and the NAACP awarded Moore its Spingarn Medal.

Ebony magazine called Moore's killing "The Bomb Heard Around the World," and the news was shared in many countries. Eleanor Roosevelt, then a delegate at the United Nations, said, "That kind of violent incident will be spread all over every country in the world and the harm it will do us among the people the world is untold."

NAACP Work

Moore started a branch of the NAACP in Brevard County in 1934. He went on to lead the Florida chapter of the NAACP in 1941.

Moore coordinated a 1937 lawsuit initiated by a black teacher who was being paid less than his white counterparts; this brought Moore into contact with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall. (As the teacher was fired, the suit ended up being dismissed, though later ones fared better.) Moore also assisted black students who wanted to attend graduate programs in state schools that refused to admit them.

In an attempt to stop acts of racial violence, Moore wrote letters to officials at all levels of government, and called for a federal anti-lynching law. By 1945, he was conducting his own investigations into lynchings in Florida.

His civil rights work resulted in both Moore and his wife getting fired from their teaching jobs in 1946. Afterward, he was employed full-time by the NAACP. However, there were clashes between Moore and the organization — membership went down during his tenure, though Moore pointed out that the decline coincided with a hike in membership fees from $1 to $2. He was released from his position as NAACP executive director in November 1951.

Progressive Voters' League

Moore started the Progressive Voters' League in Florida after the Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that the Democratic Party could not prevent black voters from voting in primaries (the Democratic Party's primacy in Florida at the time made primaries a more effective way to exercise voting power).

Moore's spearheading of voter registration drives produced impressive results. In 1944, there were 20,000 registered black voters in Florida, but by 1950 that had gone up to 116,000 (about 31 percent of those eligible). PVL, which used the slogan "A voteless citizen is a voiceless citizen," also had some success in electing its preferred candidates.

Groveland Case

Many of Moore's relations believed that his involvement in the Groveland case may have led to his death. In this case, four black men were accused of raping a white woman. One of the suspects fled and was killed; the other three were convicted, with two receiving the death penalty.

In April 1951, the Supreme Court ordered a new trial for the two men who had been sentenced to death, citing prejudicial pretrial publicity. While both were being transported to court in November, they were shot by Sheriff Willis McCall. The sheriff claimed he'd been attacked by the prisoners, who were handcuffed — but one man survived and said McCall had actually fired in cold blood. Moore began to demand that McCall be suspended and indicted for murder.

Bombing Investigation in 1952

After the bombing, the FBI conducted a thorough investigation — although director J. Edgar Hoover was not an advocate for civil rights, there was global attention on the case and President Harry Truman had received many messages of protest. In addition, bombings driven by bigotry were on the rise in Florida: Miami had seen explosions at an African-American housing complex, Catholic churches and synagogues; in Orlando a new black high school had been bombed.

The Ku Klux Klan was of prime interest in the investigation. Federal agents identified and talked to many Klansmen, including Joseph Neville Cox, who committed suicide the day after his interview. Two other suspects were KKK members Earl J. Brooklyn and Tillman H. Belvin. However, these two had both died, of natural causes, by the end of 1952.

At the time, the FBI had no jurisdiction to investigate a local killing, even one tied to civil rights abuses, but they did bring perjury charges against seven KKK members in 1953. However, a Florida judge dismissed the charges, arguing that the lack of jurisdiction made lying to the agents irrelevant. The investigation was closed in 1955.

Later Investigations

In 1978, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and Brevard County State Attorney’s Office decided to look into the bombing again. That year, Edward Spivey, a terminally ill KKK member, informed investigators that Cox had told him he'd been paid $5,000 to kill Moore. Spivey would not testify to a grand jury before he died.

In 1991 Governor Lawton Chiles ordered that the Moore case be re-investigated. While serving as Florida's attorney general, Charlie Crist opened another investigation into the deaths in 2004. No charges were filed as a result of either inquiry.

The Justice Department reopened the case in 2008 when it began looking into a number of unsolved killings tied to the civil rights movement. This investigation was closed in 2011; the closing notice stated, "[T]he review suggests that the most probable subjects involved in the bombing were Brooklyn, Belvin, Cox, and Spivey. All four subjects are deceased."

Wife and Daughters

Moore met Harriette Vyda Simms when he was 20 and starting out as a teacher. Simms, then 23, was working for the Atlanta Life Insurance Company; she also was a teacher. Moore and Simms wed on Christmas Day in 1926. They had celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary the day of the bombing.

The couple had two daughters: Annie Rosalea, nicknamed "Peaches," was born in 1928; Juanita Evangeline, called "Van," arrived in 1930. Annie was there when the house was bombed, but was not seriously injured. However, she developed asthma afterward, which her sister attributed to the blast. Annie died in 1972.

The family was close and hadn't opened presents on Christmas Day because they were waiting for Evangeline to return home from her job in Washington, D.C. Instead, she ended her 26-hour train ride only to learn that her father had been murdered and her mother gravely injured. Talking to the Washington Post in 2011, Evangeline said, "That explosion took everything from me." Evangeline passed away in 2015.

When Was Harry T. Moore Born?

Harry Tyson Moore was born on November 18, 1905, in Houston, Florida.

When Did Harry T. Moore Die?

Moore died in Florida on December 25, 1951, while being transported from Mims to a hospital in Sanford.

Early Life

Moore, an only child, was nine when his father passed away. He was raised by his mother and maternal aunts.

Education and Teaching Career

Moore graduated from Florida Memorial College in 1925. While there he was given the nickname "Doc" because he was such a talented student. Moore became a teacher and later served as a school principal and superintendent.

In 1951, Moore received his B.S. degree from Bethune Cookman College.

Legacy

After the initial interest in and outcry over the Moores' murder, decades went by in which Moore's contribution to the fight for civil rights was largely overlooked. His name is not on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama (the monument only includes those active following the 1954 decision striking down "separate but equal" education in Brown v. Board of Education).

Yet now Moore is receiving greater recognition. His story was told in the documentary Freedom Never Dies (2001). In Florida, there is a Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center and the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex. And his younger daughter donated some of her parents' personal items that survived the explosion — a wallet, locket and watch — to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Moore's mother, who was also in his house when the deadly blast occurred, told investigators that she'd wanted her son to abandon his dangerous work. Time magazine related what his mother remembered as Moore's response: "If I sacrifice my life or my health, I still think it is my duty for my race."

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