In Brevard County, Florida, Harry Tyson Moore and his wife Harriette established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The couple’s home in rural Mims, Florida, was bombed on Christmas Day 1951, and the two were murdered.
Harriette Moore died nine days after Harry Moore died on his way to the hospital. Protests erupted in response to their deaths across the United States. The State of Florida investigated the bombing years later and determined that three members of the Ku Klux Klan were involved, but they had died by the time the investigation was completed.
Because of his political activism, Harry Moore had made enemies. He investigated lynchings and organized for equal pay and rights during his 17-year civil rights career. According to reports, he was substantially responsible for the founding and expansion of the Florida NAACP, which at the time was the country’s sole functional civil rights group. Some dubbed him the most dreaded Black man in Florida as he continued to combat racial injustice.
In 2006, Bill Gary, president of the NAACP’s Northern Brevard County branch in Florida, told the Baltimore Sun, “Harry Moore was performing the precise work that was eventually carried on by Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Jesse Jackson.” “He was one of the founding fathers of the modern civil rights movement.”
Despite his sacrifice and status as the first civil rights leader to be assassinated, few people are familiar with Harry Moore’s name or story.
Harry Moore was born in the town of Houston, Florida, in the year 1905. Johnny Moore, Harry Moore’s father, worked for the railroad and owned a little business, but he died when Harry was nine years old. Harry Moore was raised by his mother Rosa for a while before being sent to live with his aunts in Jacksonville.
After graduating from Florida Memorial College, Harry Moore witnessed firsthand how Black people in Florida were being persecuted. He witnessed the Ku Klux Klan harassing African-American voters.
By 1925, Harry Moore had started teaching at a Cocoa, Florida, school for Black kids and eventually became the principal of the Titusville Colored School. He met Harriette Simms, who would later become his wife, while in Cocoa. After the birth of their first daughter, she also became a teacher.
Harry Moore would bring his own materials to schools and educate students about black history. According to Smithsonian Magazine, he would also bring in ballots and educate his students on how to vote. He did it before Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Parks’ Montgomery bus protests and lunch counter sit-ins.
Harry Moore was well-known for his political organizing by the time he died. He founded the Progressive Voters’ League after realizing the importance of the vote’s power. Before his death, he had registered over 100,000 Blacks in his county alone, accounting for over a third of Florida’s eligible Black voters.
Harry Moore became a MARKED MAN, because of his campaigns for Black people’s rights at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was active. He traveled across the state on highways where even using a public restroom was perilous, and where no restaurant would serve him.
Thousands of circulars were printed in response to lynchings, segregation, and uneven pay for Black instructors. His mother was concerned for his safety, but he assured her that all he was doing was for the greater good of his race.
Harry Moore and his wife had just retired for the night after celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary when their bedroom exploded at 10:20 p.m., “sending them into the ceiling then back down into a pit of shattered floorboards, bookshelf, sewing machine, bed boards, and other furniture,” according to the Baltimore Sun.
Annie Rosalea, their oldest daughter, hurried to the scene from her bedroom. The Moores were brought to the hospital in the company of their neighbors who had heard the explosion. Harry Moore did not survive, and Harriette Moore died in the hospital nine days later after visiting her husband at the funeral home.
“Harry T. Moore’s most devastating epitaph is that he died three years too soon.” He would have been Medgar Evers if he had been slain in 1954 instead of 1951. In his 1999 book, Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr, Florida author Ben Green said, “Everyone would know his name.”
Members of Florida’s numerous Klan klaverns had been behind some dynamite bombings in the year of the Moores’ deaths. According to author Green, following the Moores’ episode, which was perceived as “so personal,” marches against the murders were staged in New York and other major cities, igniting the most significant civil rights controversy in a decade. According to the Baltimore Sun, President Harry S. Truman received a lot of protest letters while giving remarks on the United Nations floor.
Moore was the most renowned Black man in the world for a few weeks, according to Green. “Then it faded away.”
“The residents of Florida wished for the story to go away. It was having a negative impact on tourism.”
Because of his activity, Harry Moore and his wife both lost their teaching jobs in recent years. He was also fired from his paid NAACP secretary job just weeks before his death, accusing him of politicizing his employment by enrolling Black people for the Democratic Party. However, the NAACP staged a benefit in New York’s Madison Square Garden in March 1952 to honor his civil rights work following his death.
The Moores’ murder is still unsolved, but a historical marker has been set at their homesite to educate and celebrate their work. Visitors can also see a reproduction of their home at the Moore Cultural Complex in Mims, which was rebuilt on the original property. Furthermore, some of their personal belongings are on exhibit in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.