Harry T. Moore

Age 46

Started a chapter of the NAACP, married for 25 years

Mims, Florida

December 25, 1951

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“And when it became an issue where he was not able to get the equal pay that he felt he and his wife deserved, that's when they started their level of activism.”

Skip & Darren Pagan

Grandson and Great-grandson of Moore

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SP: He was a soft spoken leader. I think that was how most people would describe him. He as well as my grandmother were both teachers. And when it became an issue where he was not able to get the equal pay that he felt he and his wife deserved, that’s when they started their level of activism.

DP: So, Dad, can you talk about the deaths of Harry and Harriet, and about the night in particular?

SP: So typically they celebrated their anniversary on Christmas night, because that was their anniversary. So this particular day, they had gone out to have dinner with, uh, some of the local relatives that they had.

And then they came back into the house, and they went through the normal ritual of their anniversary. They had cake, they were playing jazz music and they celebrated and, finally, Harry was the last one to retire. And, um, it was only minutes after he turned off the light that the bomb went off.

So how has the murder of your great grandparents impacted your life?

DP: I, you know, recognize the impact that it’s had on our family, I think about it in terms of, you know, how I want to impact other people.

SP: Mmhmm.

It’s allowed me to have a different and a more meaningful understanding or perspective as it relates to violence against my race.

You know, I would say that paying it forward and being involved, you know, forcing yourself in addition to what you’re doing to get involved in assisting others is probably the biggest way that they have impacted me.

But, unfortunately I think one of the consequences of the death of our great grandparents and grandparents is that there’s this lack of confidence in receiving justice.

SP: You know, I’d love it to be a fair system where, uh, the criminal justice system treated people of color the same as they did white people. But I don’t ever expect that to be the case. I think it can be closer, but I kind of wonder how realistic that vision of justice would be.

Photo by Demetric Blyther

Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette, lived in a four-room cottage deep in a Florida orange grove. For decades, they spent their days educating Black children in local segregated schools and in their spare time got involved in the early civil rights movement of the 20th century. By the late 1930s, Harry had begun organizing voting drives, investigating lynchings, and speaking out against pay inequality and other injustices faced by Black Americans.

The superintendent of the school district warned Harry to halt his political activities. When Harry did not, the district declined to renew both of the Moores’ contracts, leaving them unemployed after more than 20 years of teaching. A Department of Justice memo on the case noted that this tactic was commonly used to silence and intimidate activists at the time. But Moore was undeterred: He went on to become the NAACP’s first full-time executive secretary in Florida. 

On Christmas Day in 1951, the couple had retired to their bedroom after celebrating the holiday, which also happened to be their 25th wedding anniversary. That evening, a bomb exploded under their home. Harry died that night, and Harriette died nine days later.

Initial Investigation

Several law enforcement agencies have investigated the murders of Harry and Harriette Moore. The first investigation, led by the FBI, began within hours of the explosion. According to a Department of Justice memo on the case, nearly 80 FBI agents conducted more than 1,000 interviews across five states.

The investigation ultimately focused on Ku Klux Klan chapters in central Florida, whose members had been aware of Harry’s civil rights work and were particularly aggrieved that he had campaigned against two local white politicians. The FBI identified two Klansmen as suspects, Earl Brooklyn and Tillman Belvin, both of whom had a reputation for violence.

Sources told agents that Brooklyn was in possession of the floor plan of the Moores’ house. Another witness said the pair had asked directions to the home. Days before the attack, Belvin came into a sum of cash large enough to pay off his mortgage — perhaps, the DOJ memo implies, a payment for the killing. Both suspects died of natural causes within a year of the murders, however, and could not be prosecuted. The FBI concluded its investigation in 1955 without filing any charges. 

More than 25 years after the Moores’ murder, the case was reopened, this time by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and the Brevard County State Attorney’s Office. A detective found a new lead when a former high-ranking KKK member named Edward Spivey repeatedly called the sheriff’s office to complain that the investigation was wasting taxpayer money.

Spivey agreed to meet with the detective and, over the course of 10 meetings, revealed a number of details about the bombing. Among his statements was that a close friend, fellow Klansman Joseph Cox, told Spivey he had received $5,000 from the KKK to detonate the bomb. Cox had been investigated by the FBI in 1952 but had denied any knowledge or involvement. Before Cox could be questioned further, he killed himself. Spivey’s account was so detailed that the sheriff’s office believed he must have been present when Cox planted the bomb. The state attorney’s office prepared a grand jury case against Spivey, but the state attorney lost the next election, and the case never proceeded. Spivey died in 1980.

In 1991, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reopened the case for a third time. During that investigation, a source claimed another KKK member had repeatedly said he had been present at the bombing, but that person, whose name is redacted in the DOJ memo, denied any involvement. The FDLE failed to find other leads. 

A fourth investigation was launched in 2004 by the Florida Attorney General’s Office of Civil Rights. The office interviewed more than 100 people and excavated the site of the Moores’ home. That investigation concluded that Brooklyn, Belvin, Cox and Spivey were likely responsible for the bombing.

Till Act Status

In 2008, the FBI reviewed the four earlier investigations and identified 10 former members of the central Florida KKK who might have pertinent information about the bombing. But eight of those people were confirmed to be dead, and the FBI failed to locate the other two.

The review did not produce any new leads and concluded that the most probable suspects were Brooklyn, Belvin, Cox and Spivey — all dead. The review also determined that the federal statute of limitations on the crime had expired, so even if a living suspect had been identified, it would have been difficult for the Department of Justice to prosecute. The case was closed in 2011. 

About the Project

This multiplatform investigation draws upon more than two years of reporting, thousands of documents and dozens of first-hand interviews. FRONTLINE spoke to family and friends of the victims, and witnesses, some of whom had never been interviewed; current and former Justice Department officials and FBI agents, state and local law enforcement; lawmakers, civil-rights leaders and investigative journalists, to explore the Department of Justice’s reopening of civil rights-era cold cases under the 2008 Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act.

In addition to an examination of the federal effort, the project features the first comprehensive, interactive list of all those whose cases were reopened by the Department of Justice. Today, the list stands at 151 names. Among the victims: voting rights advocates, veterans, Louisville’s first female prosecutor, business owners, mothers, fathers, and children.

The project consists of a web-based interactive experience, serialized podcast, a touring augmented-reality exhibit, documentary and companion education curriculum for high schools and universities.

A project like Un(re)solved would not be possible without the historic and contemporary contributions of universities, civil rights groups, and the press, particularly the Black press, who have ensured the ongoing public record of racist violence in the United States. To pay homage to these groups, the web interactive begins with a quote from journalist, activist and researcher Ida B. Wells, one of the first to document with precision the horrors of racial terror in America. “The way to right wrongs,” she wrote, “is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

At the outset of the project, FRONTLINE forged a relationship with Northeastern University’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ), bringing them on as an academic partner. Launched in 2007 by Distinguished Law Professor Margaret Burnham, CRRJ is a mission-driven program of interdisciplinary teaching, research and policy analysis on race, history, and criminal justice. Their work has expanded beyond the names on the Justice Department’s list, archiving documents in over 1,000 cases of racially motivated homicides.

With support from the CRRJ, FRONTLINE reporters gathered what could be known about the individuals on the list, conducting interviews with family, friends and witnesses, delving into newspaper archives and gathering documentation including headstone applications, draft cards and archival photographs.

At the heart of the project has been a drive to center the voices of the families of those on the list. FRONTLINE partnered with StoryCorps to record nearly two dozen oral histories with victims’ next of kin, which are featured both in the web-based interactive and traveling AR exhibit. These oral histories will also be archived in the National Library of Congress.

To lead the creative vision for the web experience and installation, FRONTLINE partnered with Ado Ato Pictures, a premier mixed reality studio founded by artist, filmmaker, and technologist Tamara Shogaolu.

Shogaolu rooted the visuals in the powerful symbolism of trees. In the United States, trees evoke the ideal of liberty, but also speak to an oppressive history of racially motivated violence. In Persian myth, trees are humanity’s ancestors, while in Toraja, Indonesia, they serve as sacred burial sites.

“I was really inspired by looking at the role of the tree as a symbol in American history” Shogaolu said. “It’s been looked at as a symbol of freedom, we look at it as a connector between generations, and also there’s the association of trees with racial terror.” When designing the creative vision for Un(re)solved Shogaolu wondered whether she might be able to reclaim the symbol of the tree. “As a person of color, we’re often terrified of being in isolated places in the woods. And I thought it was kind of crazy that there are natural environments that instinctually give great fear because of this connection with racial terror and I wanted to reclaim that — to turn these into beautiful spaces.”

Un(re)solved weaves imagery of trees, which also recall family ties, into patterns and textures from the American tradition of quilting. Among enslaved African Americans forbidden to read or write, quilts provided an important space to document family stories. Today, quilting remains a creative outlet rich with story and tradition for many American communities.

We invite you to enter this forest of quilted memories — a testimony to the lives of these individuals, and the multi-generational impact of their untimely, unjust loss.

(Credits to come)