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The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement

The Unsolved Mystery of the First People Killed During the Civil Rights Movement

It was a double celebration: Christmas, and the Moores’ 25th anniversary. Harry T. and Harriette Moore celebrated the way they had 25 years before, cutting the cake together like newlyweds. They had no idea that the tender moment would be among their last. As they settled in to their bed to sleep that evening in 1951, a massive explosion tore through their bedroom.

Within hours, Harry T. Moore was dead. Within days, his wife was, too. With the death of the Moores, the nascent Civil Rights Movement got its first martyrs.

Photo: Wikipedia / Bombing_of_home_of_NAACP_member_

The Moores had been murdered, victims of an improvised explosive device made with dynamite and shoved beneath their bedroom floor. It seemed like a simple case: Harry T. Moore had been fighting segregation and racism in the Jim Crow South for years, making plenty of enemies along the way.

But though the Moores’ murders produced an immediate list of suspects, even a deathbed confession, no arrest was ever made in their case. To this day, it remains unsolved, despite convincing evidence that the Moores were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Moores had already sacrificed for their beliefs. Born in segregated Florida, both had been fired from their jobs as teachers after they founded a local chapter of the NAACP. At the time, segregation was the norm in former Confederate states, and the Moores and other black Southerners had few opportunities for economic or social advancement. Harry had met his wife after getting a job at a school for black children in Cocoa, Florida. The Titusville “Negro School” offered black students a chance at an equal education, and Moore eventually became its principal.

Photo: Cathnews.co.uk/ Ku Klux Klan members in chicago

But his political activism—including founding the Brevard County NAACP and filing a lawsuit to try to force Florida to pay black teachers as much as white ones—put him in the crosshairs of Florida’s racist political establishment and locals. He was fired from his job as principal, and Harriette was fired from her teaching position. In response, Harry became an organizer for the NAACP, traveling Florida, registering black voters, and investigating lynchings across the state.

As Harry’s activism became more and more visible, he became a target. Lynching was still alive and well in Florida, and vigilantes often took the law into their own hands, even in the few cases where the legal system ruled in favor of black people. 

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