Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
He was the first civil rights leader to be assassinated, but few know his name. His murder was the spark that ignited the American civil rights movement, but even fewer know his story.
Before graduate student Mike King began using his given name, Martin Luther, before Detroit Red changed his name to Malcolm X, and before Medgar Evers joined the NAACP, civil rights activist Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harritte, were murdered.
On Christmas night, 1951, an explosion ripped through the little frame cottage he and his wife of 25 years called home. The bomb was planted beneath their home, directly under their bedroom. The brutal, deadly force of the blast slammed the bed they were sleeping in through the thick wood ceiling rafters.
In the 1950s, in the Deep South, Moore's political activism had earned him plenty of enemies. Some labeled him the most hated black man in Florida. Harry Moore's mother, visiting for the holidays, voiced her concerns for Moore's safety late that evening. Every advancement comes by way of sacrifice," he told his mother before going to bed. "What I am doing is for the benefit of my race."
Harry T. Moore traveled the boggy marshes of Florida, devoting himself to helping African-Americans learn their constitutional rights. He was almost single-handedly responsible for creating, and then expanding the Florida NAACP, which in 1951 was the only viable civil rights organization in the country. A schoolteacher by profession, fired after twenty years for his political activities, Moore fought against racial injustice long before there was a civil rights movement.
He launched his own investigations of brutal lynchings and unspeakable acts of mob violence in an era when a sixteen-year-old black boy was killed merely for sending a Christmas card to a white girl -- forced to jump into the Suwannee River in front of his own father, where he drowned.
Harry Moore wore out countless typewriter ribbons writing eloquent protests against such brutality, knowing they would be met with outright hostility or indifference from white officials. On a hand-cranked Ditto machine set up on his dining room table, he churned out thousands of circulars attacking lynchings, segregated schools and unequal salaries for black teachers. Wearing his second hat, as the executive secretary of the Progressive Voters' League, which he co-founded in 1944, he was the singular driving force in the registration of 100,000 new black voters in Florida.
He accomplished all this -- always in his measured, resolute fashion -- at a time when most African-Americans were still afraid to challenge the Jim Crow system head-on. He ignored "go-along-to-get-along" advice from his peers during a time when the greatest accomplishment of many NAACP branches was their Annual Coronation Ball and Beauty Pageant.
For seventeen years, he crisscrossed the backroads of Florida, wearing out three cars, traveling alone usually, and at night, through small towns where no restaurant would serve him, no motel would house him and some gas stations wouldn't let him fill his tank, empty his bladder, or even use the phone.
"What about Harry T. Moore?" an aide to Governor Millard Caldwell wrote in 1946, inquiring of a commissioner in Moore's home county. "He is a negro, is he not? Give me the dope on him." The commissioner bluntly replied, "He is a trouble maker and negro organizer."
Five years after Moore's death the groundswell of change began to take hold -- first in Montgomery, and then in Little Rock, Birmingham and Nashville. New headlines brought new heroes. The bomb that rocked Moore's home and took his life was once referred to in newspapers as the bomb heard round the world. Sadly, that horrendous event is largely forgotten. Almost fifty years later, few people have ever heard his name.
To educate, inform and honor the works of Harry T. and Harriette Moore, an historical marker has been placed at their homesite. There are plans to develop the homesite to commemorate the lives of two pioneering American black civil rights workers.
Preliminary plans include a reconstruction of the Moore's six room house, with memorabilia from the Moore's lives; a plaza with an educational and interpretive center; picnic areas; rest rooms; and parking spaces.
The site is to serve as a memorial to the Moore's, an education and interpretive center, and as a center for social and cultural activities in the community. It is expected that it will become a historical tourist destination. The site is located just west of U.S. 1, at the south end of Freedom Avenue, off Parker Street in Mims.
Watch for more news on the development of the homesite at BlackFloridian.com. We will update the story as events unfold.
There is so much more to the Harry T. Moore saga! His complete story is told in the spellbinding book, Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr, brilliantly and lovingly written by Ben Green.