NEW PORT RICHEY
The professor told the crowd something most of them did not know, something surprising and important. Something the president of the African American Club of Pasco didn't even know until recently:
More than 60 years ago, Florida had its own version of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an unsung and mostly forgotten civil rights martyr named Harry T. Moore. He and his wife, Harriette, died Christmas evening 1951, after a bomb exploded underneath their home in Mims, a town northeast of Orlando. Harry Moore founded Florida's first branch of the NAACP in the early 1930s and spent the years until his death, at age 47, working to improve the lives of African-Americans.
"It is one of the great tragedies in Florida history," Florida State University professor Ben Green, author of a biography on Moore, told a crowd of about 100 people who gathered Monday at Sims Park to celebrate King's life. Green said the couple's deaths are doubly tragic because "most people don't know who they are."
Moore and his wife were schoolteachers, but were fired when Moore refused to stop his civil rights activism. Green said Moore helped enroll more than 100,000 black voters, worked to start dozens of other NAACP chapters and investigated the lynchings and mistreatment of African-Americans. He was a slender, quiet, dignified man, who often traveled the state on his own, through towns dangerous for a black man.
"What he did, he did by himself," Evangeline Moore, the couple's only surviving daughter, told the Times by phone last week. She was 21 when they died. She caught a train home the day after Christmas, not knowing what had happened until she arrived at the depot.
"It hurts," she said. "It will never go away."
The bomb was placed in the crawl space under the house, underneath where Harry Moore and his wife of 25 years slept. The case was investigated sporadically over the decades and four men were named as suspects. But they are dead and Evangeline Moore said she has been told there's nothing else that can be done.
"They got away with what they did to my parents scot-free," she said. "It's made me very, very angry."
She wants the world to know of the sacrifices and tireless work her father did, that what he contributed paved the road for other civil rights leaders. Green said Moore was "the most hated black man in the state of Florida" because of his work.
Chuck Saulter, who attended the event Monday, was surprised he had never heard of the Moores' story and felt thankful for them and all of the people who fought for freedom and equality. He thought about how much has changed as he got ready Monday morning, watching television coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration. He realized that without the progress society has made, he wouldn't be able to have the life he has or to live where he does, as an African-American man living in a racially mixed, prosperous neighborhood,
"We are a lot better than we ever have been," as far as race relations, said Saulter, 51, of Hudson. "There is room for improvement and there always will be."
The day began at Community Congregational Church. The mood was joyous and uplifting, strangers greeting and hugging one another, gospel choirs singing. Then people moved outside, linked arms and sang We Shall Overcome as they marched to the West Pasco Historical Society museum, where the honor guard of the Chester McKay VFW Post raised the flag and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Put your hand over your heart, son," Terry Kline, 65, whispered to his grandson, 9-year-old Kaeden Kline, who did as he was told.
"That represents us," Kline said, pointing to the flag. "That represents the people of the United States."
Kline said he brought his grandson to the event so he could learn respect.
"Martin Luther King didn't just stand up for the black people," Kline said. "He stood up for everyone."