THE BOMB HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
written by Sonya Mallard
The Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Museum is located in Mims, Florida. Sonya Mallard is the Museum’s Cultural Director. She wrote and contributed The Bomb Heard Around The World.
“The Bomb Heard Around the World” is a phrase not heard by many Americans. At 10:20 pm on Christmas night, 1951, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were fast asleep when a bomb ripped apart their home, killing them and their dreams of freedom and the hope of equality for thousands of Florida’s black citizens. The dynamite blast was so powerful it was heard five miles away in Titusville. Because of the high-profile couple, the news of the bomb echoed around the world carrying the news title of “The Bomb Heard Around the World”. Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were the leading civil rights activists in Florida. Harry established NAACP branches throughout the state. The NAACP investigated lynchings of black citizens and called upon the U.S. Justice Department for the prosecution of those responsible. They registered black citizens to vote, called for the removal of Florida lawmen for brutality on black citizens, and challenged the practice of paying black teachers less than white teachers for the same work. Yes, Harry and Harriette were a thorn in the side of those who wanted to silence them and keep the status quo. The bomb did its work that Christmas night. Harry died on the way to the hospital in Sanford because no hospital in Titusville would treat a black man. Harriette died nine days later on January 3, 1952, the day after Harry’s funeral, but their legacy lives on.
Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were active in the fight for justice years before Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They were the first martyrs of the contemporary civil rights movement. Many of the heroes and heroines of the Civil Rights Movement have become household names in the last fifty years – not The Moores. Their commitment to creating an American society that truly lived up to the ideals expressed in our Constitution resulted in extraordinary changes, particularly in the South, yet they are barely recognized for their courage and tenacity in fighting racial hatred and discrimination. It is easy to focus on the famous names we recognize today and the deeds that brought them their fame, but we forget that social change is a slow process that demands preparation and patience. The Civil Rights Movement is no exception.
Before the dramatic boycotts, sit-ins, and marches of the 1960s and 1970s, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore’s names were unfamiliar even to experts on the Civil Rights Movement in Montgomery, Alabama. Their contributions to the fight for black equality in Florida are virtually unrecognized, even in history books. Racism was so alive that the Florida legislature appropriated $800 per teacher to local school boards, as a supplement, but black teachers were denied the money. The disparity in salaries reflected the treatment of black schools. In 1937, the Brevard County School Board spent $69.05 per capita for white students and only $27.04 per capita for black students. The black schools would close three months into the school year, as they were out of money, but many would simply say they were out of colored school money. Harry T. Moore knew it was time to take legal action against the school system. He received backing from the Florida State Teachers Association (FSTA), the black teachers’ organization, and also asked Thurgood Marshall for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s support. Harry had to find a plaintiff who understood the importance of the case and the repercussions that would come. Thurgood Marshall was excited to be taking the fight to the Deep South and agreed to be the attorney representing the plaintiff, John Gilbert.
In March 1938, Gilbert v. Board of Public Instruction of Brevard County Florida was filed in state court rather than in federal and petitioned the court to adopt a new salary schedule “without any distinction being made as to race or color.” This case was the talk of many states, counties, and cities, including New York City. The NAACP issued a glowing press release, predicting that the case would have a profound effect upon the fortunes of Negro teachers in the South. John Gilbert was fired for filing the case, blacklisted, and was never employed as a teacher again. In June 1938, a Brevard Circuit Court judge dismissed Gilbert’s petition, ruling that the Florida Constitution did not require school boards to establish any salary schedules; therefore, it could not be compelled to adopt a new one. The FSTA and Thurgood
Marshall immediately filed an appeal with the Florida Supreme Court. In June 1939, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case. According to Dr. Gilbert Porter, an eyewitness, several justices actually turned their backs on the FSTA attorney when he stood up to present his oral argument. John Gilbert was the first to lose his job but there were many others, including Harry and Harriette, who lost their jobs due to the court case. On June 4, 1937, the Brevard County School Board fired both Mr. and Mrs. Moore. The School Board documents listed the firings as resignation, and it took another decade and dozens of lawsuits before the teacher salary battle in Florida was won.
It seemed events were coming to a crisis. Harry T. Moore was also under attack from the main NAACP office, who saw his views as too confrontational and political. At the November 1951 state convention in Daytona Beach, NAACP officials removed Harry Moore from his paid position as Executive Secretary of the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches. When NAACP officials announced Moore’s removal, they expressed concern over his preoccupation with Progressive Voters League affairs causing him to neglect NAACP-related business. As the winter moved in and Christmas drew near, everything changed for Harry T. Moore. One day after his removal at the Daytona Beach convention, he drove to West Palm Beach for a Groveland fundraiser. On Christmas night after returning home from visiting family members, Harry and Harriette celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with some cake and a little dancing. They sat around talking in the living room with their oldest daughter Annie Rosalea, better known as “Peaches,” and Harry’s mother Rosa. They had no idea that something evil was lurking in the grove or that someone had given the Ku Klux Klan the layout to their home. At 10:20 pm, pure evil hatred slithered under the house and ignited the dynamite that was strategically placed underneath the bedroom floor on the side where Harry T. Moore slept. The bomb was heard around the world. Their bodies were lifted high into the ceiling, falling into a cave of what was the bedroom floor as the echo of the blast ricochet around the world. Blacks were put on notice once again–assaults against the Jim Crow color line would not be tolerated. Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore were the fatal victims of a bomb. The racism of the county was so extreme, local florists refused to deliver flowers to their funerals because they were black.
Excerpt from Ebony Magazine, April 1952 edition headline: – THE BOMB HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. Repercussions from the Florida blast make it most explosive since the Hiroshima atom bomb. The world quickly took note. In Asia and Africa, Moore’s slaying in a nation that called itself the world’s greatest democracy became front-page news. Newspapers in France, Brazil, Israel, and The Philippines editorialized about the death of Harry T. Moore. In the world forum of the United Nations, Russia’s Foreign Minister Andrei Vishinsky was quick to throw the Moore murder in the faces of American delegates – including one Negro delegate, Channing Tobias. Behind “The Iron Curtain,” the Communists had a field day with dispatches from the Russian Tass news agency with details of the Moore slaying. America’s foremost delegate to the UN, Eleanor Roosevelt, admitted: “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.” Over decent America, a pall of shame settled. More sermons were preached, more resolutions adopted and more protest telegrams and letters were sent about the Moore killing than about any other racial event in the decade.
Out of the explosion of ashes from that fateful night in Mims, Florida, the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park & Museum is on the historic grounds of The Moore’s homesite at 2180 Freedom Avenue, Mims, Florida. The museum highlights a historic timeline and the cultural center follows the Civil Rights Movement from the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, through the Civil Rights Act of July 2, 1964.
In the words of Harry T. Moore, “Freedom is not free. If we want our complete emancipation, we must be willing to pay the price.”