Freedom Never Dies
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Before His Time book coverGreen, Ben. Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr. New York: Free Press, 1999.

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. 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.

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.

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