Harry T. Moore born on November 18, 1905 in Houston, Florida, a small farming community in Suwanee county. Harry was born the only child of Johnny Moore and Rosa Tyson. His father tended to water tanks for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad while Rosa ran a small store in front of their house. Johnny Moore’s health faltered, when Harry was nine years old and in 1914 Johnny passed away. Rosa did her best to keep the home and the store running smoothly she even took a second job working in the cotton fields.
The following year Rosa decided to send Harry to Jacksonville to live with her sisters. Rosa knew that Jacksonville had a large and vibrant African American Community, with proud tradition of independence and intellectual achievement and she wanted the best for her son. The following Harry moved to Jacksonville to live with his three aunts Jesse, Adrianna, and Masie Tyson. This would prove to be the most important period in his formative years.
Moore’s aunts were educated, well in-formed women (two was educators and one was a nurse). Under the nurturing guidance of his aunt, Moore’s natural inquisitiveness and love of learning were reinforced.
Moore returned home to Houston, Florida in 1919, and enrolled in the High School program at Florida Memorial College. Over the next three years Moore Excelled earning straight A’s except for one B+. His classmate called him Doc. In May 1925 at the age 19 Moore graduated from Florida Memorial College.
Career and Family
After graduating Moore excepted a teaching job in Cocoa, Florida. Moore spent the next two years teaching fourth grade at Cocoa’s only black elementary school. During Moore’s first year in Cocoa he met Harriette Vyda Simms an older woman that caught his eye. Harriette was 23, while Moore was barely 20. Harriette taught school herself, but was selling insurance for Atlanta Life Insurance Company. On December 25, 1926 less than a year after they first meant Moore and Harriette was married.
Moore and Harriette moved into her parents home until they built their own house. Months after Moore married he was promoted to principal of the Titusville, Colored School, which went from fourth grade through ninth grade.
In March of 1928, Moore and Harriette had a daughter who they named Annie Rosalea nickname Peaches. When Peaches was six months old Harriette began teaching at Mims Colored school. On September 30, 1930 Moore and Harriette had other daughter who they named Juanita Evangeline.
Harry Moore Join NAACP
Three years after the birth of his last child in 1934 Moore founded the Brevard County Chapter NAACP, Moore also helped organize the statewide NAACP organization. In 1937 with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall Moore filed the first lawsuit in the Deep South to equalize salaries of black teachers with white teachers in public schools. Although the lawsuit failed it led the way to others lawsuits that succeeded in gaining equal pay for black teachers. In 1941 Moore organized the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, and soon Moore became NAACP executive secretary he was not paid for this positions. After 1943 Moore moved into an more dangerous arena, Moore became involved in reviewing every single lynching case in Florida that involved black people. He sworn affidavits from families of victims in some cases he launched his own investigation.
Moore wrote to the Florida Delegation of Congress:
“Again we must remind you of the urgent need of a strong Federal Law against lynching and mob violence…. We need a Federal Law with ‘teeth.’ “
In 1944 NAACP won a major victory when the United States Supreme Courts ruled in Smith v. Allwright that the Democratic Party’s all-white primary in Texas and other states was unconstitutional. During the next six years Moore led the Progressive Voters’ League in voter registration drives that succeeded in registering 116,000 black voters were registered in Florida Democratic Party, this represented 31 percent of those eligible to vote in Florida. It was a major increase in black voters 51 percent higher than blacks registered to vote in other southern state. In June of 1946 Moore and Harriette paid a terrible price for their political activism both was fired and blacklisted from their teaching jobs a move designed to intimidate Moore, but Moore did not let that hold him down. Moore became a full-time, paid organizer for the Florida NAACP.
Moore built the Florida NAACP to its peak of over 10,000 members in 63 branches, however in January 1949 NAACP national office double the annual dues from $1 to $2 the result of this was memberships plummeted all over the country, Florida followed suit drooping to 3,000 members in one year. Moore and the national office began having increasing disagreements over his political activities and his full-time status.
Moore and the Groveland Four
In 1949 Harry Moore investigated a case in Groveland, Florida in which four young black boys were accused of raping a white woman, despite questionable evidence. When the sheriff, Willis V. McCall shot two of the suspects on the evening of their retrials after the United States Supreme Court overturned their death sentences in 1951. Moore demanded the McCall be indicted and tried for the murder and that there was a lot of corruption. Moore daughter said friends warned that he might be in danger.
The Murders of Harry T. Moore and Harriette Vyda Moore
Six weeks later, after Moore tired to get McCall indicted, On Christmas night 1951 a bomb exploded. The bomb was placed beneath the floor joists directly under the bedroom of Harry and Harriette Moore. The couple had gone to bed after celebrating both Christmas and their 25th wedding anniversary. Harry Moore died on the way to the hospital. Harriette suffered a concussion and internal injures she succumbed to her injuries nine-days later. The Moore’s oldest daughter (Anne Rosalea) was home but uninjured in the explosion. The Moore’s other daughter Juanita Evangeline was in route on a train to her parents home when the bomb exploded.
In 1952 the State of Florida called the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI launched a massive investigation of their death and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) activity in central Florida. The investigation pointed toward three Klan members, one of whom committed suicide the day after a FBI interview. The investigation slowed down Klan activity, but led to no arrests. Four dead Klansmen were implicated in the murders. After three investigations, the most recent review having been closed August 2006, the case is closed and remains unsolved.
Recent Development of the Moore’s Murders
The State of Florida twice returned to the case, but was unable to file charges, as most of the men suspected to have been involved 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.
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 which had linked Sheriff Willis V. McCall to the crime were proven false. Based on extensive evidence, the state concluded that the Moore’s were victims of a conspiracy by members of a central Florida Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan. 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 plan of the Moore’s 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, Florida chapter of the Klan, was believed to have ordered the attack. In 1952 he committed suicide after being questioned by the FBI.
- As he lay dying of cancer, Klansman Edward L. Spivey claimed to have been at the crime scene in 1951, and he implicated Cox in the attack.
The Moore’s 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.
Legacy and Honors
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
- In 1952, Moore was posthumously awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP, for outstanding achievement by an African American. Although the story of the Moore’s lives receded into obscurity for years, since the late 20th century, interest in them has been revived by books and a new investigation of their murders.
- In 1999, Florida approved designation of the home site of the Moore’s as a Florida Heritage Landmark. 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 home site in Mims.
- Brevard County named its Justice Center after the Moore’s and included material there about their lives and work.
- Harry T Moore Ave in Mims, FL is named after him.
- 2012, the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Post Office in Cocoa, Florida was named in their honor.
- 2012, State Road 46 in Brevard County was designated as the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Highway by the Florida Legislature.
- 2013, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Frame at the Florida Capitol.
Harry Tyson Moore was 46 years old at time of his death
Moore’s wife Harriette Vyda Simms Moore was 49 at time of her death