Forgotten Martyrs

The Baltimore Sun

The case is closed - if not solved.

In her hands, Evangeline Moore weighs the 370-page "Homicide Investigation." The bound notebook feels heavy and right - unlike earlier and lighter investigations into the Christmas 1951 murders of her parents - an NAACP official named Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette Moore. Although justice was neither swift nor conclusive, Evangeline Moore says she is satisfied. Finally, she believes, the state of Florida took the cold case seriously.

"I feel like a load has been lifted off of my shoulders," says Moore, 76, from her home in New Carrollton. "I feel more at peace with the world."

After three previous investigations, Florida officials ended in August one more review of the murders of the Moores in the Florida citrus town of Mims. Four dead Klansmen were again formally implicated in the murders. The merits and timing of the investigation have become entangled in the state's gubernatorial politics. But Evangeline Moore isn't interested in Florida politics. She's interested, perhaps now more than ever, in having her father's life work recognized and dignified.

"My father started the civil rights movement in this era," Moore says. "And he's still being overlooked."

Before Brown vs. the Board of Education, before Rosa Parks' bus protest and lunch counter sit-ins, Harry Tyson Moore taught black kids in the 1930s and 1940s how to read and fill in a ballot. During his 17-year career in civil rights, Moore investigated lynchings and worked for equal pay and rights. By the time of his death, Moore had become equally well-known for his political organizing. His Progressive Voters' League had registered more than 100,000 blacks in his county alone - nearly one-third of eligible black voters in Florida.

"Harry Moore was doing the exact work that was later carried on by Medgar Evers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson," says Bill Gary, president of the Northern Brevard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Florida, the branch Moore started in 1941. "He was a pioneer of the modern civil rights movement."

Moore was also an unknown pioneer. Who outside Central Florida had ever heard of Harry T. Moore? To Evangeline Moore's knowledge, her father wasn't in any history books. He wasn't memorialized on any civil rights monument.

"It was just another discarded crime. It never caught on in the press," says civil rights historian Taylor Branch, whose trilogy of King biographies does not mention Harry Moore. His death, Branch says, preceded the movement's dividing line in 1954 when racially motivated murders became known as assassinations and not categorized as any number of unsolved, unreported lynchings. Moore's story, in essence, had fallen between the cracks of civil rights history.

"Moore was," Branch says, "ahead of time."

He was also a marked man.

On a foggy Christmas night in 1951, a Klansman (the most recent state's report again implicates Joseph N. Cox, who committed suicide one day after the FBI interviewed him) hid behind an orange tree planted by Moore, who had hoped his small grove would one day become his retirement nest egg. An explosive, presumably dynamite, had been planted under the floor joists under the Moores' bedroom. Someone knew the floor plans of their house. Someone provided the getaway car.

Inside, Moore and his wife were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. At 10:20 p.m., after they had cut the customary Christmas fruitcake and retired for the night, the bedroom exploded, sending them into the ceiling then back down into a pit of shattered floorboards, bookshelf, sewing machine, bed boards and other furniture. Their oldest daughter, Annie Rosalea, came running from her bedroom. Neighbors heard the explosion and rushed to the Moores' home.

In Washington, Evangeline had boarded the Seaboard Air Line Railroad's Silver Meteor and was heading to Mims for the holidays. She had moved to Washington to work as a government clerk and often took the Silver Meteor home. On Dec. 27, her uncle met her at the train station - not her father and mother, as usual, but her uncle, who broke the news. There was a bombing. Her father was dead. Her mother was in the hospital.

"The only way you can convince me my dad is dead is to take me to him," Evangeline told her uncle, who instead took her home. Once inside, she saw "all the furniture that I knew so well" in a pit that had been her parents' bedroom. She then went to see her mother, who would resist doctors' orders and go to see her husband at the funeral home.

"She put her hands on the bottom of the casket and just said 'Harry,'" her daughter says. "That's all she could say." Her mother died nine days after the bombing and was buried in the red dress she had worn on her wedding anniversary.

Today, in the bedroom where Moore keeps a copy of the state's report, she keeps her father's salvaged tiepin and pocket watch. Portraits of her parents honor her walls. Her father - "Professor Moore" - appears as a slight, serious man. Her mother, Harriette, the taller of the two, is smiling.

Evangeline had been her father's right hand. Giving up piano lessons to help her father after school, she would type his letters to attorney Thurgood Marshall and other leaders in what would become known as the modern civil rights movement.

Since her soft-spoken father avoided public speaking, Evangeline delivered - quite nervously - his speeches at NAACP state conventions. On the night before the speeches, she would rehearse his orations and even memorize his favorite poem, Kelly Miller's "I See and Am Satisfied." I see him who was once deemed stricken ... now entering with universal welcome into the patrimony of mankind.

She was his voice.

'The Florida Terror'

"The most poignant epitaph for Harry T. Moore is that he was killed three years too soon. If he had been killed in 1954 instead of 1951 ... he would be Medgar Evers. Everyone would know his name," Florida author Ben Green wrote in his 1999 account, Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr.

Green, a Florida State University professor, was searching for a book subject in the 1990s when he stumbled on the story of Harry Moore. "Why have I never heard of this guy?" said Green, a former social studies teacher. His curiosity piqued, he researched Moore's work and discovered not only the achievements of this early NAACP organizer but also the extent of the Klan's reach in Florida in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the year of the Moores' deaths, members of Florida's various Klan klaverns - "the boom-stick boys" - committed a dozen bombings using dynamite. The Moores were the 12th bombing in a string of violence that Northern journalists would call "The Florida Terror." Rallies were held in New York and other major cities. Baseball's Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP's Roy Wilkins and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke out against the murders. President Harry S. Truman was besieged with protest letters. Speeches were made on the floor of the United Nations.

"For a few weeks, Moore was the most famous black man in the world," Green says. "Then, it faded."

With no formal civil rights movement behind him, Moore disappeared into history. "People in Florida wanted the story to go away. It was hurting tourism," Green says. "There was even talk of boycotting Florida citrus. It was serious."

Green's book draws perhaps the most comprehensive portrait of Moore, his family, his work and his death. In his last years, Moore and his wife lost their teaching jobs because of his activism. He was dismissed from his paid NAACP secretary job just weeks before his death because he was accused of politicizing his job by registering blacks for the Democratic Party. Fearing for his safety, Green wrote, he had begun carrying a gun.

The biographer also deconstructs previous investigations into the Moores' deaths, as well as the racial landscape of a state better known for oranges and beaches. So when Attorney General Charlie Crist reopened the case two years ago at the behest of the local North Brevard County NAACP branch, Green watched closely. Four dead Klansmen were again implicated in the 1951 murders. "In all likelihood, indictments from a grand jury would be sought against these four if they were still living," Crist announced.

"They found nothing new," Green says. "The most provocative questions have never been answered. Who placed the bomb under the house, and who put them up to it?"

The attorney general's office says it never promised to answer all the questions. And Evangeline Moore says she is satisfied. In August, she stood beside Crist at a news conference on her old homestead in Mims. She said she was grateful and relieved. She felt she had been in the loop. "The investigators called me when they got to a point they didn't know where to go next. It made me hopeful it was in good hands," Moore says.

After Green's criticism was reported in the media, the case - which had made headlines briefly a half-century ago - became a hot topic again in Florida. Crist is also the Republican nominee for governor, and his opponents claim he is trying to exploit the case for his own political gain. Reporters are calling Evangeline Moore again. "I'm so weary of the controversy," she says.

Last month, a film crew from the Crist campaign arrived in New Carrollton to film Moore reading a personal "thank you" message she had sent Crist after the investigation. Moore says she wasn't aware her message might be included in a TV political commercial. Her "thank you" is not an endorsement of his campaign, she says.

"I'm not voting in Florida. Floridians can do what they please," says Moore. "As far as I am concerned, a thorough investigation was performed and that's what I wanted."

Hughes' ballad

It seems that I hear Harry Moore

From the earth his voice cries

No bomb can kill the dreams I hold

For freedom never dies!

- Langston Hughes, "Ballad of Harry Moore"

Moore long had no idea that the NAACP had commissioned the poet Langston Hughes to write a song about her father. In March 1952, the NAACP held a benefit in New York's Madison Square Garden to commemorate Moore's civil rights work. Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Lena Horne attended the fundraiser, where the "Ballad of Harry Moore" was performed. (The a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock recently recorded the song.) But Moore says she and her sister had not been invited to the 1952 event. Green, while researching his book, discovered Hughes' tribute and told Moore's daughter.

She keeps the song lyrics with her father's papers and pocket watch.

Since her parents' death, she has felt her father's contributions to civil rights have been slighted. Why, she wonders, does the NAACP not mention her parents on its Web site's "Timeline" of milestones? During his career, Moore started 63 NAACP branches in Florida. In Baltimore, Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the national NAACP, says an updated "Timeline" will be released in November. "I'm not sure the Moores will be included - which is not to diminish what they accomplished," McIntire says.

Moore has been honored in his home state and county. At the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Justice Center in Brevard County, Fla., a bronze statue features the likeness of the couple and their daughters. A local street is named after him - and a state park. In 2001, PBS aired a documentary on Moore called Freedom Never Dies, and a one-man play on his life, The Most Hated Man in Florida, toured the state. A memorial service for the Moores is held annually in Mims.

A crime stoppers' group decided last month not to award $25,000 to a tipster in the state's case because the information didn't lead to the resolution of the crime. Rather, Central Florida CrimeLine is recommending the reward money be given to the Harry T. Moore Cultural Complex in Mims.

A nonprofit group, headed by the NAACP's Bill Gary, is raising money to build a replica of the Moore home. A stage, reflecting pool and meditation garden are planned. Money is also being raised to create wax figures of the Moores, so they can join other prominent figures at the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.

"Our mission is to tell little-known or often neglected facts of history," says museum president Joanne Martin, who learned of the Moores just a few years ago. She expects their figures to be installed next year. "They single-handedly began the civil right movement in Florida."

A daughter's life

After "The Florida Terror" of 1951, Harry T. Moore's youngest daughter settled into a private life as a government clerk in Washington. Three marriages were unsuccessful.

"I was always looking for a man like my father," she says.

She wishes she could talk with her sister about the state's investigation. But Annie Rosalea "Peaches" Moore died of a heart attack in 1972. She was 44. Their father was 47 when he died; their mother, 49.

Evangeline Moore's life has not been without healing and riches. Years of therapy have helped her deal with painful memories. And she has her family, 53-year-old son Skip Pagan and a 14-year-old grandson named Darren, who is a frequent after-school visitor to her home. Moore travels to Florida - a state she long had no desire to revisit - to speak at memorials and events in honor of her parents.

"Now, 50 years later, she has come full circle," wrote Green. "She is delivering her father's speeches once again. ... The voice she has found is her father's."

His book, which he dedicated to her, helped jar memories of the place of her childhood - the grove land of small, safe Mims - until it wasn't safe or home anymore. She remembers:

Listening to Joe Louis fights on the radio with her father. Running off letters for him on the ditto machine until her fingers turned purple. Dad's work more important than any piano lesson. Not being scared. "I knew my dad was always going to take care of me." Church on Sunday, then mimicking the church women to make her dad smile. Her father coming home after work, washing his feet and hands, then sitting in his rocking chair in their living room.

"The highlight of my day was going to sit in his lap with my arms around his neck," his daughter says. "Just being there was enough; no words had to be said."

But she wanted to see his broad smile.

"I'd ask him, 'Daddy, when you met Mom, was it love at first sight?'"

"'Yup, love at first sight,'" she remembers him saying. "Oh, I'd ask him that often."

Her arms always around his neck.

rob.hiaasen@baltsun.com

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