Harry T. and Harriette Moore, a Florida couple active in the civil rights movement, paid the ultimate price for the freedoms won for their community when they were killed by Ku Klux Klan members in their own home in 1951. By the time of their death, Florida had the highest number of registered Black voters, far more than any other Southern state.
Schoolteachers in Florida
Born in the Florida Panhandle, Harry was sent to live with his three aunts in Jacksonville, home to a large and vibrant Black community. His aunts, two of them teachers, nurtured his love of learning, and the few years Harry spent with them would prove pivotal to his racial and political awakening.
After graduating from high school, Harry became a fourth-grade teacher at a Black elementary school in Brevard County. There, he met Harriette Vyda Simms, a former schoolteacher who was selling life insurance. After marrying, the couple completed their college education at Bethune Cookman College, a historically Black university, and eventually returned to teaching.
NAACP branch in Florida
In 1934, the Moores founded a chapter of the NAACP in Brevard County. Initially, Harry kept his job as a teacher, working in an unpaid capacity for NAACP for more than a decade. He fought tirelessly for equal rights for Black Floridians by investigating lynchings, challenging barriers to voter registration, and advocating for equal pay for Black teachers in public schools despite segregation.
By the time of their death, Florida had the highest number of registered Black voters, far more than any other Southern state.
Harry and Harriette were eventually fired from their teaching jobs because of their activism, at which point Harry became a paid NAACP organizer. Eventually, Harry was appointed executive secretary for the Florida NAACP. During his tenure at the helm of the Florida branch, statewide membership grew to a peak of 10,000 members in 63 branches.
Equal pay For Black teachers
With the help of NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, in 1937 Harry filed the first lawsuit in the South calling for Black and white teacher salaries to be equal. Although the initial lawsuit failed in state court, it generated a dozen other federal lawsuits that eventually led to equal salaries in Florida.
After the Supreme Court ruled in 1944 that all-white primary elections were unconstitutional, Harry registered 31 percent of eligible Black voters, adding 116,000 members over six years to the Florida Democratic Party.
Harry grew deeply involved in the 1949 Groveland rape case, in which four young Black men were accused of raping a white woman. Following the arrests of three of the men, a white mob of more than 400 people rampaged through Groveland's Black neighborhood, leading authorities to call out the National Guard to restore order.
After an all-white jury convicted the men and sentenced them to death, Harry led a successful campaign to overturn the wrongful convictions. In 1951, the Supreme Court granted the appeal and ordered a new trial. While driving two of the defendants to a pre-trial hearing, the town's sheriff shot them, killing one and critically injuring another. Harry called for the sheriff's suspension and indictment for murder.
Murder and legacy
Six weeks later, on Christmas night, a bomb exploded under the bed of Harry and Harriette Moore. It was the couple's 25th anniversary. The first-ever NAACP official to be assassinated, Harry died on the way to the hospital, while Harriette died in the hospital nine days later.
Despite a nationwide outcry and a massive FBI investigation, no one was arrested for the couple's killing. It took more than half a century before the case was reopened and four Ku Klux Klan members were identified as being directly involved in the murders.
Langston Hughes composed a poem, "The Ballad of Harry Moore," in the wake of the couple's death, and in 1952, NAACP awarded Harry the Springarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American.
After the initial outcry, the couple's story faded from history for a few decades but interest in their lives enjoyed a revival in the 21st century. Several landmarks in Brevard County bear their name, including a park, a justice center, a highway, and a post office. Their home was also declared a Florida Heritage Landmark.