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Remember Harry and Harriette Moore

On Saturday July 13, the NAACP will open its 104th annual national convention in Orlando, Florida. Thousands of delegates will gather, elected by their local branches to attend regional workshops, learn more about issues such as criminal justice and voting rights, and cast ballots in plenary session on resolutions that will help guide the work of the association into the future. Those who wrote the organization’s obituary in the 1990s should know that the NAACP is stronger than it’s been in decades, with forward looking leadership at the national level and in the state conferences.

Orlando is famously home to Mickey Mouse and assorted other tourist attractions, each one bigger and more fabulous than the next. The city is north of Lake Okeechobee, and for that reason it can’t be faulted for destroying the Everglades. South of that lake, however, sugar plantations, canals, highways, and ever expanding cities have destroyed the Glades so as to render it impossible to restore. Much of the development turned a unique pristine wilderness into a concrete and stucco monstrosity, dressed up like a flash dancer with art deco feathers.

The Orlando metropolitan area also includes Sanford, where George Zimmerman is currently on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The verdict is likely to be rendered either before or during the NAACP conference, and the authorities are already taking precautionary steps if a not guilty verdict comes in. It should be noted that if Zimmerman does escape conviction in a state murder trial, he can still be charged by the Justice Department with violating Martin’s civil rights. Such has been done several times before in this author’s memory: Once in the case of the murder of Kansas City saxophonist Steve Harvey, whose racist and bigoted assailant was acquitted in a state murder trial but convicted in 1983 in federal court of civil rights violations and sentenced to a long prison term. Such a scenario would require an organized campaign to press for justice for Trayvon Martin and his family.

Zimmerman’s defense has been watched closely by hard-core white nationalists and white racists of various stripes. Judson Phillips, head of Tea Party Nation, who once publicly worried about the present course leading to “Anglo-Saxon extinction,” opined that “George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense. This not even debatable.” Phillips went on from there to claim that the Constitution had been violated during the trial, etc.

There are 1105 enrolled Tea Party members in Orlando, according to a June 15 count by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights (IREHR). FreedomWorks, which does not usually organize its members into chapters claims 450 of those. Tea Party Patriots, which is more organized and active, has 287 members. Statewide in Florida there are 31,855 members; and it is one of the southern states with actively growing Tea Party memberships. This is a very different Florida than the one meeting in the convention center.

There are still Klan members in Florida, and the Knights Riders faction has its so-called national office in Live Oak, located in the northern tier of counties considered more like South Georgia than Orlando or Ft. Lauderdale. There are also members in the Fort Myers area, and in May Kluxers dropped leaflets on the lawns of African American families in Orlando. The Ku Klux Klan today, however, is a mere shadow of its former self.

Long after the Klan revival of the 1920s had faded in the Midwest and other states, it retained tens of thousands of members in Florida, combining racist and anti-Semitic violence with attacks on union organizers. One of the most infamous cases occurred in Tampa in 1935, when Kluxers grabbed union organizer Joseph Shoemaker, beat and whipped him, castrated him and dipped him in boiling tar. “After nine days of intense pain,” he died, according to David Chalmer’s book, Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan.

After World War Two and at the dawn of the civil rights era, Klan violence increased. According to a Newsweek article from that era, “In Miami, between June 1951 and December 31, 13 bombs had been set off, each time at a Jewish synagogue, a Catholic church or a Negro home.” On Christmas Eve 1951, in Mims, Florida, a bomb was placed beneath the bedroom at the home of Harry and Harriette Moore. It was the 25th wedding anniversary. They both died in the days following.

At the time, Harry Moore was the Florida state leader of the NAACP. He had started the Brevard County NAACP in 1934, according to his NAACP biography. In 1941, he organized the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and worked on equal pay for teachers, investigated lynchings and enabled others to use their voting rights. When the opportunity emerged in the late 1940s, he organized the Progressive Voters’ League and registered 31% of all eligible black voters in the state—a percentage that was significantly higher than in any other in any other southern state at that time. He and his wife were probably murdered because of their work against police brutality, according to Stetson Kennedy, a well-known white Klan fighter and author who knew and worked with Moore. Again, according to Kennedy, in the first investigations of the Moores’ murders, the FBI considered the NAACP a prime suspect. Kennedy quoted directly from an FBI report from that time: “NAACP is a definite suspect of having done it for propaganda purposes.” No one was ever arrested or tried for these murders.

Today, the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park commemorates their home site in Mims. The Brevard County NAACP has been very active in the process of creating the park, which is just one hour’s drive away from where the NAACP national convention will be meeting.

Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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