Representative Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg) sent a letter to President Joe Biden nominating Florida civil rights leaders Harry T. and Harriette Moore to be honored posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their decades-long advocacy for Black equality and equity. Getty Images
BY REP. CHARLIE CRIST, Contributor
ST. PETERSBURG — Think of a civil rights hero right now.
I can probably guess who you’re picturing. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rosa Parks. My friend and colleague, Congressman John Lewis. All patriots and American heroes.
But there are two civil rights leaders you may not have heard of – even though they lived, worked, and died fighting for equal rights right here in Florida. Their names are Harry and Harriette Moore.
In 1951, Harry and Harriette Moore of Brevard County, Fla., were the first prominent civil rights leaders to assassinate the Ku Klux Klan. But it’s not for their deaths that you should remember them. It’s for their incredible lives.
As teachers in 1930s Florida, Harry and Harriette experienced the evils of the Jim Crow era first-hand. They witnessed the devastating impacts of segregation on their students – the same segregation that divided my hometown of St. Petersburg in two.
But where many would have seen adversity, Harry and Harriette saw an opportunity to rally their fellow Black educators and community leaders around the cause of desegregation – 20 years before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education outlawed segregation nationwide. The Moores used people power to create a united voice for Black Floridians, founding the Brevard Chapter of the NAACP and organizing other chapters statewide.
Harry and Harriette knew the discrimination they witnessed could not be addressed without real, legislative change – the kind of change that starts at the ballot box. In 1945, they formed the Florida Progressive Voter’s League to turn their grassroots movement into a powerful voting bloc, registering 116,000 Black Floridians up and down the state.
They also advocated against racial violence in Florida, using their platform to bring attention to the Suwannee lynching of 15-year-old Willie James Howard in 1944 and advocating strongly to reverse the unjust arrest and conviction of the Groveland Four in 1949.
Harry and Harriette’s advocacy on behalf of the Groveland Four is widely believed to have made them a target of the Ku Klux Klan. On the night of Christmas 1951, a bomb went off under the Moores’ home that fatally wounded them both. They were survived by their two daughters, Evangeline and Annie.
Despite multiple investigations, no suspect was ever charged in the murders of Harry and Harriette. As Attorney General of Florida in 2005, I saw an opportunity to bring some measure of closure to the Moores’ surviving family by reopening the investigation into their murders. After re-examining past evidence and eliciting the public’s help, my office found that four deceased members of the KKK had worked together to murder the Moores on Christmas night 1951.
While Annie Moore passed away in 1978, Evangeline Moore continued sharing her parents’ legacy until she passed in 2015 at age 85. More than anyone, it was Evangeline who inspired me to reopen her parents’ case and draw awareness to their incredible work.
We will never have true justice for the Moores’ murder. True justice would have been for Harry and Harriette to sleep safely that Christmas, wake the next morning, raise their children, and continue their quest for equality. But what we can do now, 70 years later, is celebrate them for who they were – freedom fighters who gave their lives in the struggle for Black equality.
Harry and Harriette Moore deserve to be remembered alongside figures such as King, Parks, and Lewis. Their story deserves to be told. Every Floridian should take hope and inspiration from their work and unwavering bravery.
To that end, I am requesting that the Biden Administration posthumously award Harry and Harriette the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As our nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom allows us to celebrate the changemakers who faced tremendous resistance and little recognition in their lives.
If awarded, Harry and Harriette would join the ranks of recipients like James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and Harvey Milk — all brave Americans martyred in their fight for equal rights. While this award would not change the outcome of what happened on that terrible Christmas night, it would preserve the Moores’ place in American history – a place they have too long been denied.