Magazine article The New Crisis

Remembering Harry and Harriette Moore

Magazine article The New Crisis

Remembering Harry and Harriette Moore

Article excerpt

It could not be in Jesus' name,

Beneath the bedroom floor,

On Christmas night the killers

Hid the bomb for Harry Moore.

It could not be in Jesus' name

The killers took his life,

Blew his home to pieces

And killed his faithful wife.

- Ballad of Harry Moore

by Langston Hughes

Long before Medgar Evers, Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Jr., there was Harry T. Moore, perhaps the first martyred leader of the 20th Century's nascent civil rights movement in the United States. Poet Langston Hughes memorialized Moore, a scholarly but shy school teacher, and his wife, Harriette, shortly after they were murdered in 1951 and an international clamor about racial injustice in the U.S. ensued. But as with so much of African American history, the story of Harry and Harriette Moore receives little notice in the history books.

That may be about to change. At a recent meeting of the NAACP's regional council in Miami, Stetson Kennedy, a white former FBI agent and one-time informant for civil rights groups, donated over 2,000 pages of official and unredacted FBI documents concerning the murders of the Moores to NAACP Chairman and CEO Julian Bond, President Kweisi Mfume and Florida NAACP President Leon Russell. When the official FBI investigation of the murders was completed, Kennedy continued to investigate them on his own, filing and obtaining Freedom of Information Act requests and retrieving all manner of other documents related to the case.

In a statement, the ailing Kennedy said, "I am very happy and thankful that the documents are in the hands of Mr. Moore's own people and that eventually these documents will be placed with the NAACP's papers in a location for access by all Americans. I am convinced that this is in the public interest and the national interest and in the interest of better law enforcement."

The story of Harry Moore is representative of all that was woefully wrong about life in the U.S. for its black citizens. On December 21, 1951, at 10:20 p.m., a bomb exploded beneath the Moores' bedroom in Mims, Fla.(pop. 1,081), some 40 miles due south of Daytona Beach. Set by unknown conspirators, the bomb killed them both as they and their two children lay sleeping. The children survived. It was the Moores' 25th wedding anniversary. The bombers have never been brought to justice. One white man who saw the wreckage of the home commented, "That's one coon who will keep his mouth shut."

The outcry over the murder was startling. Blacks were routinely lynched for far less crimes than political activism, so the murder of yet another black was nothing new. But the cowardly slaying of the Moores was different. Newspapers around the globe reported the atrocity. Communist organizations used the story for recruitment and anti-American propaganda. At the United Nations, Russia led other countries in condemning the U.S. for permitting such heinous acts.

Eleanor Roosevelt warned: "That kind of violent incident will be spread all over every country in the world, and the harm it will do us among the people of the world is untold."

When Kennedy released the papers, Leon Russell observed: "We believe the motive for the assassination was his (Moore's) work in the political arena. Harry Moore had filed a lawsuit that ended the lily white Democratic primary in the State of Florida, which obviously gave African Americans an opportunity to vote in the state.

He was also a champion of challenging police brutality and police use of force. …

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