BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – They started off as educators in segregated public schools, and it’s because of what they saw, they became Civil Rights activists.
The Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex in Brevard County is dedicated to making sure their stories are told for generations.
For Black History Month, News 6 reached out to the complex, and this is the information the Culture Center Coordinator wanted to share with us.
When Harry was just nine years old, his father died and because of Harry’s health, his mother knew his future was not in the cotton fields of Suwannee County. Instead, she sent him to live with his three aunts in Jacksonville. They were educated professionals: a nurse and two teachers, one with a Ph.D. Harry became the son they never had.
In Jacksonville, he was exposed to the vibrant African American community as well as the Harlem Renaissance. He also fell in love with learning.
In May of 1925 at the age of 19, he graduated from Florida Memorial College with a degree that qualified as a teaching certificate. That fall, he accepted his first job in Brevard County, teaching fourth grade in Cocoa’s ‘colored’ elementary school. That first year he also met Harriette. They were married within a year and built a home in an orange grove in Mims. They had two daughters, Peaches and Evangeline.
In 1927, Harry was promoted to principal of the Titusville Colored School, and Harriette started teaching as well.
“By 1934, this reserved bookish, soft-spoken school principal not yet 30 years old would be transformed into an activist. That transformation would change his life, his family, and ultimately the state of Florida,” said Sonya Mallard, Cultural Center Coordinator.
That’s when Harry established the Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and became its president.
In 1937, he noticed the Brevard County School board was spending less on black students, so he filed a petition backed by the Florida State Teachers Association.
That petition was dismissed, and it would take another decade and a dozen more lawsuits before the teacher salary battle in Florida was won.
Another big issue Harry spoke out about, was lynchings.
“Filing lawsuits over teacher salaries could get you fired, but standing up against lynchings could get you killed," Mallard said.
From 1900 to 1930, Florida had the highest rate of lynchings in the south.
“The disturbing truth is that for decades Florida was a haven for lynchings, which flies in the face of our image as a tourist paradise,” Mallard added.
In 1941, Harry challenged nearly every lynching in Florida. His efforts also brought attention to the lynching of African American teenager Willie James Howard in 1944 and to the wrongful conviction of the Groveland Rape case in 1949.
“Harry & Harriette Moore was really just like you and I. We love our family. We work hard as parents to give our children more than we had, and to push them harder than what we accomplished in life. Just like Harry saw the injustices of another time when men and women were being lynched -- he stepped in,” Mallard said.
Moore and other NAACP leaders also organized the Progressive Voters League. For 20 years, he had already been teaching black school children how to fill out sample ballots long before they were old enough to vote, and in May of 1945, over 30,000 African Americans made Florida history by voting in the Democratic Party primary.
Then in 1951 everything took a turn. It was Christmas night and their 25th wedding anniversary. The couple had gone to bed after celebrating when a bomb exploded under their home in Mims. Harry was killed in the blast, while Harriett died nine days later. They are the only husband and wife to be killed in the Civil Rights movement.
The murder case was investigated by the FBI but never prosecuted. In 2005 and 2006, a state investigation named the likely perpetrators as four Ku Klux Klan members, all dead by that time.
“Harry T. Moore had the audacity to do the unthinkable for a Black man to do -- before the country was paying attention before there was a movement before the TV cameras were showing the dogs attacking children in Birmingham and New York City," Mallard said. "But, I am pleased to let you know his dying was not in vain. Out of the ashes and ruins of the dynamite, we have a 12-acre memorial park and museum on the property of the original Moore family home site.”
The facility houses a museum, a replica of their house, a conference center, and a small reference library. It also serves as a polling site, and visitors can check out the voter registration book that shows signatures they signed in.