BEFORE HIS TIME:
THE UNTOLD STORY OF HARRY T. MOORE, AMERICA'S FIRST CIVIL RIGHTS MARTYR
by Ben Green
Free Press, 1999
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Fifty years ago -- before Martin Luther King, Jr., began to preach from his pulpit in Montgomery, Alabama, the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, or Rosa Parks's famous bus ride -- a man named Harry T. Moore toiled in Jim Crow Florida on behalf of the NAACP and the Progressive Voters' League. For seventeen years, in an era of official indifference and outright hostility, the soft-spoken but resolute Moore traveled the backroads of the state on a mission to educate, evangelize, and organize. But on Christmas night in 1951, in a small orange grove in tiny Mims, Florida, a bomb placed under a bed ended Harry Moore's life. Although his daughters, Peaches and Evangeline, survived, his wife, Harriette, died of her wounds a week later. Unjustly neglected until now, Moore's death stands as the first in what was to be a long and tragic line of assassinations in the civil rights movement.
It was Moore's defense of the Groveland Four -- black youths accused, under murky circumstances, of raping a white woman in Lake County -- that drew the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan and pitted him against one of the most feared and vilified sheriffs in the country. Two of the Groveland Four were shot -- one fatally -- in the custody of Sheriff Willis McCall, who despite fifty investigations and a litany of racial scandals would remain in office for nearly thirty years. Ben Green revisits the people and circumstances surrounding Harry Moore's death, and brings alive a cast of characters worthy of Harper Lee or Flannery O'Connor. But as we journey through time with Green, we see all too vividly that police beatings, suppressed evidence, complicit juries, and angry mobs comprise an unforgettable part of our recent past, and even our present.
The governor of Florida reopened the case of Harry Moore's murder in 1991. Although the investigation revealed for the first time that the Klan was almost certainly responsible for Moore's death, no one was put behind bars. Bringing a fresh eye to the newly available FBI files, Green offers a reckoning of the good and the bad, the villainous and the virtuous. His shocking book helps us to reclaim the past, as far as we are capable of knowing it, even when complete and final justice eludes us. It also offers a poignant testimony to all the unsung heroes who, like Harry Moore, were long-forgotten early martyrs to the cause of civil rights and racial justice.
The AuthorBen Green, a freelance writer and journalist, is on the faculty of Florida State University. He is the author of Finest Kind, for which he was recognized as a Bread Loaf Fellow, and The Soldier of Fortune Murders, which served as the basis for a CBS ministries. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife, Tracie Schneider, and their two daughters, Emily and Eliza.
Chapter 1"And suddenly there was with the angel a
multitude of the heavenly host praising God,
and saying, "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."
It is Christmas 1951.
Two years before the H-bomb. Three years before the Brown decision. A dozen years before "I Have a Dream" and the first unfathomable assassination. Before Sputnik, Elvis, Vietnam, Watergate, or the Pill. Before the Berlin Wall rose...or fell. Before Watts or South Central L.A. Before AIDS. In short, a long, long time ago.
Come back to that time, for a moment, to the little town of Mims Florida. ...
Here's what people are saying:Henry Louis Gates, Jr. author of Colored People, W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University A gifted storyteller and a tenacious investigator, Ben Green uncovers a remarkable and heartbreaking tale that has been buried for fifty years. From now on, Harry T. Moore will no longer be one of the forgotten heroes of the civil rights movement but a man whose sacrifice will serve as a tribute to courage and a lesson to any who might forget the painful truths of our recent racial past. ...
Michael Eric Dyson author of Race Rules Before His Time is a powerful narrative of a harrowing story that deserves the just treatment and wide recognition this book will bring. As the national conversation on race flounders, this book could be a crucial ignition of honest debate about our racial past, and hence, a basis for our racial future.
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