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Harry Tyson Moore Forgotten Florida Civil Rights Icon

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Harry T. Moore was an African American Educator and Civil rights advocate from Mims, Florida. Mims is located due east of us- near where State Road 50 comes out on the eastern side of Florida.

Mr. Moore represented African Americans he believed were wrongly accused including the Groveland Four in 1948- when four African Americans were accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl. Two of the men were veterans of World War II. The trial had numerous irregularities and on appeal the US Supreme Court ordered a retrial, where the two living accused were convicted again. The treatment of the Groveland Four is considered a prime example of racial injustice, they were posthumously exonerated by the state of Florida in 2017.

In 1934, Mr. Moore started the Brevard branch of the NAACP. In 1937, with the assistance of Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Moore sued for equal pay for African American teachers. The lawsuit was eventually lost, but it spawned other lawsuits, so that equal pay was eventually achieved.

In 1941, Mr. Moore organized the Florida State Conference of the NAACP where he was chosen as Executive Secretary of the Florida NAACP.

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Mr. Moore originally advocated for African Americans to register for whichever political party that they felt most comfortable with- which at the time was usually Republican. In 1944, Several NAACP leaders including Mr. Moore organized the Progressive Voters League.

Moore wrote in an open letter from the Progressive Voters League which he also signed as Executive Secretary of the NAACP, “Regardless to our party beliefs, we must now face facts. And the fact is that practically every city, county, and state official in Florida is selected in the Democratic Primaries. In order to help select these officials, Negroes must vote in the Democratic Primaries. In order to vote in the Democratic Primaries, Negroes must register as Democrats.”

Florida is a closed primary state, so the only way to be involved in picking the candidate in the primary is to be in the same party as the candidate. If the Democratic candidate always wins you would need to be a Democrat in order the choose which candidate represents the Democrats in the general election.

Many in the NAACP were not happy about Mr. Moore intermingling the NAACP and the Progressive Voters League. The NAACP attempted to maintain a reputation as non-partisan and the vast majority of its leaders were Republicans.

Attitudes were changing, with many African Americans returning from serving their country in World War II, the status quo was no longer acceptable.

In 1944, there were approximately 20,000 African Americans registered as Republicans in Florida and none registered as Democrats. That same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that blocking African Americans from joining the Democratic Party primary was unconstitutional in the Smith v. Allwright case.

In February of 1945 African Americans voted in the Miami and Daytona Beach Democratic primaries, but had difficulty in other areas. Many were also blocked from switching from the Republican party.

In 1946, Harry Moore and his wife Harriette were fired from their jobs as teachers in Brevard. Mr. Moore was offered a full time paid position as an organizer for the Florida NAACP.

That same year the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that African Americans could vote in the Democratic Primaries. Mr. Moore’s struggles to register voters started to pay off, in 1946 Florida had 32,280 African Americans registered as Democrats and 15,877 as Republicans. By 1950 there were more than 116,000 African Americans registered as Democrats in Florida and very few Republicans.

This did not sit well with the NAACP’s Republican leadership. Mr. Moore who was the head of Florida’s branch of the NAACP was no longer invited to NAACP meetings. His position was changed to unpaid and finally in November 1951, Mr. Moore was fired from his position as the NAACP Executive Director of the Florida Branch.

On Christmas Day in 1951, a bomb was set off under the Moore’s home killing Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriette. There was an international outcry.

After his death Langston Hughes wrote the commemorative poem “The Ballad of Harry T. Moore.”  The NAACP awarded Moore the Spingarn Medal which is given annually to an African American for “outstanding achievement.” Newspapers around the world editorialized about his murder. Other nations registered their protests to his murder at the United Nations. The NAACP held large rallies in major cities including one at Madison Square Gardens in New York.  In the outcry over the Moores’ murder the NAACP raised over a million dollars according to Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr by Ben Green, Stetson Kennedy.

Moore’s legacy as an important civil rights leader was largely forgotten. Recently, Mr. Moore is receiving renewed recognition with several books and movies about his life. In 2013, Harry T. Moore and Harriette Moore were inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.


Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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