by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World
Today on BlackAmericaWeb, Tonyaa Weathersbee writes about the lives of Harry and Harriette Moore, two heroes of the civil rights struggle. You may not know about the Moore family because they were fighting for our freedom long before it was fashionable to do so. Mr and Mrs. Moore were, according to historians, the only husband-wife team to die in our nation’s quest for racial equality. They were killed in an explosion on Christmas day, 1951.
Harry Moore died instantly from the blast, and Harriette died just nine days later. Both of these heroes deserve to be recognized.
The Moores are believed to be the first martyrs in the struggle for civil rights, but I don’t consider this to be the case. The first martyrs in the struggle were the Africans who died on slave ships during the Middle Passage. However, the fact that the Moore family confronted the white power structure in Florida about the ills of lynching makes it clear that their courage deserves a place in our nation’s history books.
According to Weathersbee, “Florida, in fact, had the most lynching per capita between 1900 and 1930, and 61 black people were lynched in the state between 1921 and 1946.”
It was Mr. Moore’s decision to write letters to protest the lynchings which led to the death of he and his wife. Similar to Coretta Scott King and Betty Shabazz, Harriette Moore made the ultimate sacrifice for her husband, possessing the kind of ride-or-die tenacity that makes enlightened and courageous black women so beautiful.
“The whole course of my family’s history changed when they killed my parents,” said Evangeline Moore, the 81-year old daughter of the couple. “I won’t stop until someone is held accountable.”
Even at the age of 81, Evangeline speaks with the pain of a little girl’s heart that was broken after seeing both of her parents killed in a horribly unjust manner. It’s not inconceivable that the killers were not brought to justice because they likely had connections to the justice system itself. Even to this day, scores of black citizens are murdered regularly (including my best friend, Greg Wilkins in 1996) without serious police investigations into the crime.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: “How do we as a nation, while letting go of preconceived, racially-tinged biases and norms, find a way to honor this couple?”
You see, folks like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and even Christopher Columbus are easy to honor because there is a precedent. Our nation chose most of its heroes with almost no African Americans in mind, and this kind of “historical grandfather clause” grants a bias in favor of white men in nearly every field, from Engineering to Archaeology.
But if we want to move forward in our quest toward racial equality, American heroes like the Moore family must be remembered for the great sacrifices they made for this country. They aren’t just African American heroes, they are American heroes for confronting the social disease of racism in our society. Additionally, their little girl should get the justice she deserves, whether it is by noting who the true killers were or by compensating her financially for her tragic loss. At the very least, she deserves a trip to Washington DC to spend time with the nation’s first black president.
For every Martin Luther King who is placed in history books, put up on living room walls or featured in one of those corny McDonald’s commercials, there are thousands of other soldiers of justice who lived and died without any fanfare whatsoever. So, the same way America honors the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we must also honor the Unknown Soldiers of American Civil Rights.