Before his Time: Harry T. Moore

This weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery. The White House has great information on the anniversary and why it’s important. This includes President Obama’s stirring speech.

When I think of civil rights heroes, I think of Harry T. Moore before anyone else. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he shaped a movement before one existed. Here’s an excerpt from a story I published about him in Florida Monthly Magazine in the early 2000s when I worked there as an intern and freelance writer:

Harry Tyson Moore wrote his last letter of protest on December 2, 1951. He fought for 17 years to achieve equality between blacks and whites, becoming the most hated black man in Florida.

In his letter, Moore demanded justice for four young black men accused of rape. He recommended Governor Fuller Warren not “whitewash” the then famous Groveland case, which ignited a period of racial violence in Florida that the Northern press dubbed the “Florida Terror.” A whirlwind of racial tension surrounded the case, which included alleged beatings, murder, a vigilante mob and two separate trials. He closed his letter saying, “We seek no special favors; but certainly we have a right to expect justice and equal protection of the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?”

Three weeks after Moore wrote his appeal to Governor Warren, he celebrated Christmas with his family in the tiny town of Mims, Florida. Moore, his wife Harriette, daughter Peaches and mother Rosa returned home from his brother in law’s house around 9 p.m. The couple’s other daughter, Evangeline, would arrive in the morning by train from Washington, D.C. They would then open the gifts under the tree.

Before heading to bed the family shared a fruitcake to commemorate Harry and Harriette’s twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It was a quiet celebration in the modest wood-frame home surrounded by an orange grove.

However, at 10:20 p.m., with all asleep, the quiet ceased.

A bomb exploded under Harry Moore’s house, directly beneath his bed. The blast burst with such power that he and his wife flew up to the ceiling. Harry died on the way to the hospital. Harriette passed on one day after Harry’s funeral.

He remains one of my heroes not just because he died for his beliefs, but because he knew he might, and yet marched forward undeterred. Would you have that kind of courage?

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