Briefly Noted: Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr

Those researching civil rights leaders in Florida will find this book a handy resource. The third edition, released by the Florida Historical Society Press in 2017 is the one available on Amazon. Typical of historical society and university press books, the retail price is higher than what you might expect from a major publisher, however, Amazon has used copies available at a great saving.

From the Publisher

On Christmas night, 1951, a bomb exploded in Mims, Florida, under the home of civil rights activist and educator Harry T. Moore.

Harry and his wife Harriette both died from injuries sustained in the blast, making them the first martyrs of the contemporary civil rights movement. They were killed twelve years before Medgar Evers, fourteen years before Malcolm X, and seventeen years before Martin Luther King, Jr.

The sound of the bomb could be heard three miles away in the neighboring town of Titusville, but what resonates today is the memory of the important civil rights work accomplished by Moore.

This new edition of Ben Green s comprehensive biography of Harry T. Moore includes updated material about the investigations into the bombing, and additional photographs commemorating Moore s legacy.

If you follow civil rights issues, you know that there have been several investigations of the crime, the final one yielding the names of probable perpetrators. Two would die of natural causes and one by suicide before the initial FBI investigation was complete. I doubt we will ever find true closure on this crime. The book fills in a lot of details about what made Moore a marked man and what happened in the aftermath of the bombing.

I wish the publisher’s description included, at least, a few generalities about the focus of Moore’s work since he was active so long ago and hasn’t loomed large in mainstream civil rights histories. I found this book very helpful in my research for the novel in progress and recommend it to scholars and others interested in Florida and the Klan.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s Florida Folk Magic Series of four novels set in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s focuses on battles against the KKK in a small town. Conjure Woman’s Cat is the first novel in the series Fate’s Arrows is the fourth book in the series.

Four of Florida’s darker moments

When I research civil rights issues for the novel in progress, some of what I’m looking at happened while I was growing up there, and seeing it brings back vague memories of stories I saw in the newspaper. I often wonder if Florida’s current residents hear about these incidents in high school and college history classes. Sad to say, these four incidents aren’t the sum of the KKK violence in the state in the past. The first two happened before I was in Florida but were very much part of the conversation. Each of the blurbs below comes from Wikipedia.

Rosewood Massacre

The Rosewood massacre was a racially motivated massacre of black people and the destruction of a black town that took place during the first week of January 1923 in rural Levy County, Florida, United States. At least six black people and two white people were killed, though eyewitness accounts suggested a higher death toll of 27 to 150. The town of Rosewood was destroyed in what contemporary news reports characterized as a race riot. Florida had an especially high number of lynchings of black men in the years before the massacre,[2] including a well-publicized incident in December 1922.

Before the massacre, the town of Rosewood had been a quiet, primarily black, self-sufficient whistle-stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Trouble began when white men from several nearby towns lynched a black Rosewood resident because of accusations that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been assaulted by a black drifter. A mob of several hundred whites combed the countryside hunting for black people and burned almost every structure in Rosewood. For several days, survivors from the town hid in nearby swamps until they were evacuated to larger towns by train and car. No arrests were made for what happened in Rosewood. The town was abandoned by its former black and white residents; none of them ever moved back, none of them were ever compensated for the loss of their land, and the town ceased to exist.

Groveland Four

The Groveland Four (or the Groveland Boys) were four African American men, Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin. In July 1949, the four were accused of raping a white woman and severely beating her husband in Lake CountyFlorida. The oldest, Thomas, tried to elude capture and was killed that month. The others were put on trial. Shepard and Irvin received death sentences, and Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison. The events of the case led to serious questions about the arrests, allegedly coerced confessions and mistreatment, and the unusual sentencing following their convictions. Their incarceration was exacerbated by their systemic and unlawful treatment—including the death of Shepherd, and the near-fatal shooting of Irvin. Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and Irvin in 1968. All four were posthumously exonerated by the state of Florida in 2021.

Murder of Activist Harry T. Moore

Excellent resource from 1999.

Harry Tyson Moore (November 18, 1905 – December 25, 1951) was an African-American educator, a pioneer leader of the civil rights movement, founder of the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County, Florida, and president of the state chapter of the NAACP.

Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette Moore, also an educator, were the victims of a bombing of their home in Mims, Florida, on Christmas night 1951. As the local hospital in Titusville would not treat Blacks, he died on the way to the nearest one that would, a Black hospital in Sanford, Florida, about 30 miles to the northwest. His wife died from her wounds nine days later, on January 3, 1952, at the same hospital. This followed their both having been fired from teaching because of their activism.

The murder case was investigated, including by the FBI in 1951–1952, but no one was ever prosecuted. Two more investigations were conducted in the 1970s and 1990s. A state investigation and forensic work in 2005–2006 resulted in naming the likely perpetrators as four Ku Klux Klan members, all long dead by that time. Harry T. Moore was the first NAACP member and official to be assassinated for civil rights activism; the couple are the only husband and wife to be killed for the movement. Moore has been called the first martyr of this stage of the civil rights movement that expanded in the 1960s.

The Tyranny of Sheriff Willis McCall

Willis Virgil McCall (July 21, 1909 – April 28, 1994) was sheriff of Lake County, Florida. He was elected for seven consecutive terms from 1944 to 1972. He gained national attention in the Groveland Case in 1949. In 1951, he shot two defendants in the case while he was transporting them to a new trial and killed one on the spot. Claiming self-defense, he was not indicted for this action. He also enforced anti-miscegenation laws and was a segregationist.

He lost his bid for an eighth term shortly after he had been acquitted of the murder in 1972 of Tommy J. Vickers, a mentally-disabled black prisoner who died in his custody. McCall’s notoriety outlived him. In 2007, the Lake County Commission voted unanimously to change a road named in his honor 20 years before because of his history as a “bully lawman whose notorious tenure was marked by charges of racial intolerance, brutality and murder.” During his 28-year tenure as sheriff, McCall was investigated multiple times for civil rights violations and inmate abuse and was tried for murder but was never convicted.

For me, this past isn’t that far away. I still get angry about it and find it hard to mention it in my fiction without preaching a sermon. The KKK, the police, and civic leaders were often one and the same group.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the four-book Florida Folk Magic series set in the early 1950s when the Klan was still active.

Growing Up With Hurricanes

Debris from Donna – Florida Memory Photo

I lived in Florida during the years from the first grade through college in Tallahassee which saw very few up-close storms of note, though we did worry about hurricane Donna in 1960. Since then, the state has been hit quite a few times by major storms, primarily in the peninsula on tracks similar to Ian’s.

As a child, I was always somewhat stunned when newscasters said that slight changes in the storm’s path meant we were safe even though it was (apparently) okay if a town fifty miles away was wiped out.

We didn’t have the kind of reporting available today, so we were never quite sure where the hurricane was when we went to bed at night. Now, until the power goes out we have live pictures showing a hurricane’ track and impact, being out of touch in the 1960s was a far cry from watching the Weather Channel today and seeing Jim Cantore standing in the storm and getting knocked down by a branch.

Nights were the worst time for storms since we never knew where they were or which way they were headed. Now we can log on and learn that the storm is on our street heading for our house.

When hurricanes hit Florida these days, I feel sorry for the people who are impacted by the winds and storm surges. When I was a kid, there was a certain excitement when hurricanes were near. As I’ve grown older, that excitement has morphed into worry and dread. While I live in north Georgia and don’t have much to worry about, having family and friends in central Florida anchors me to the real-life impact of storms. I’m just too old to find any excitement in it.

Malcolm

Floridians: Stop the Northern Turnpike Extension

I grew up in Florida, so I can say this. Florida is famous (infamous) for its toll road boondoggles. If you live in Citrus, Levy, Marion, or Sumter countries, you’re at ground zero for a proposed turnpike extension that’s bad for you, the land, the panthers, and your pocketbook.

There’s been a continuing disconnect between what the people in your part of the state say you don’t want and what the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) seems bound and determined to shove down your throats.

As the No Roads to Ruin coalition says, “FDOT’s current approach to SB 100 completely ignores (1) the overwhelming public opposition, (2) the M-CORES Northern Turnpike Corridor Task Force’s failure to find any need for a northern extension of the turnpike, (3) the M-CORES Northern Turnpike Corridor Task Force’s findings on the fragility of the region’s environmental and agricultural resources, and (4) the reality that this folly is wasting, once again, precious Florida taxpayer dollars.”

This graphic from the coalition’s website sums up the situation nicely:

The evidence shows that the FDOT proposal is bad for water, wildlife, health, taxpayers, agriculture, rural communities, and the climate. It’s not just the roads themselves, it’s the sprawl and pollution that follow.

There’s also a disconnect between FDOT and the damage it does. My primary concern is the endangered Florida Panther. Estimates vary, but there are less than 200 left.

Wildlife ecologist Randy Kautz, writing at the request of the Nature Conservancy, said, “The construction of a new toll road expressway from Central into Southwest Florida is likely to have two primary effects on Florida panthers. First, there will be a direct loss of panther habitat within the footprint of the new road. Second, the toll road will accelerate the predicted loss of panther habitats, increase roadkill mortality, result in increasing fragmentation of remaining panther habitats, and likely jeopardize panther population survival by facilitating the movement of new residents and developments into regions of Southwest Florida that are now rural.”

FDOT doesn’t care about the panther or the water or the agriculture, much less the quality of life. Its job is to bring money into the state with toll roads and the tax money generated by sprawl. Your protests will never change FDOT’s thinking. The only thing to do is lean on the public, the legislature, the governor–and if need be–the courts to stop its absurd fixation on paving over the state.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s novels are set in the Florida Panhandle where FDOT devastation isn’t as extreme as it is in the peninsular part of the state.

On Location: Tallahassee’s John G. Riley Center & Museum

The John Gilmore Riley Center & Museum for African American History & Culture, Inc. is a historical and cultural gem that sits at the bottom of a hill in downtown Tallahassee, at the corner of Meridian and Jefferson Streets. The Riley House was constructed circa 1890 on the fringe of a community called Smokey Hollow. Its owner was a former enslaved man, John Gilmore Riley, rose to prominence as an educator and civic leader. – Museum Website

This beautifully restored Queen Anne house with its wrap-around porches serves as the perfect headquarters for this museum of African American History and Culture. One night say that the home once anchored the east-side community of Smokey Hollow which was lost due to so-called urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s.

Currently on exhibit, Legacy and Learning, an “intergenerational exhibit exploring the history and cultural traditions of everyday life.” Artifacts and art show how everyday appliances and other objects hve changed over time. The museum also features Heritage Education, tours, and history trails. Among the tours is the Smokey Hollow Commemorative Site and its “spirit home” models of the shotgun style houses that made up most of the community.

You might also enjoy the jogging and biking and trails at nearby Cascade Park.

If you live in and/or are visiting Tallahassee, all of this belongs on your things to do list. I was initially surprised when an individual in a Facebook group focusing on Tallahassee said he was born and raised there and had never heard of Smokey Hollow. I realized that the once-vibrant African-American neighborhood has been gone for about sixty years. Those of us who lived there sixty years ago knew about the community as well as the debates in government and the press about getting rid of it. But younger people very easily could be unaware of it. The park and the museum fix that problem.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of short stories and novels, many of which are set in the Florida Panhandle where he grew up.

Some books are a joy to write

(A word from your sponsor (AKA, me).

If you hike, jog, kayak, or so anything else that requires effort and stamina, you know that when everything within you (mind and body) is functioning optimally, you reach what’s called a flow state–in the zone, some say. Writers feel that flow state as well when the words are coming off the keyboard and onto the screen without struggle. There are multiple sensations here, but they can be summed up as joy.

I felt this way while working on the four novels in my Florida Folk Magic Series set in the panhandle near the Apalachicola River (shown above). While writing in a flow state, I saw in my mind’s eye a movie of the stories unfolding and typed up what I saw. I loved the characters, the locations, and the themes, so I felt that I was working on a view of the 1950s’ racial tensions in the sunshine state that needed to be told.

I began with Conjure Woman’s Cat and quickly discovered I was writing about my childhood and all the days I lived in Florida starting in the first grade came flowing back to mind. I was writing this book for myself but happily found out that others liked it, too, and that AudioFile Magazine loved the audiobook edition with a great review and an earphones award. 

Melinda, my publisher, asked if I’d thought about a sequel. No, not really. Funny thing. Once she asked the question I began seeing a movie of the book that would become Eulalie and Washerwoman. When Facebook friends found out I was working on a second book, they said, “nothing better happen to that kitty (Lena).” I promised that the conjure woman’s cat would be okay. Having people check in and ask about their favorite characters was a new experience for me and added to my flow state.

So now I’ve written four books, including Lena and Fate’s Arrows. It’s time to stop. I remember my creative writing instructors warning us not to write past the ending. Fate’s Arrows, the only book in the series that isn’t told from Lena’s point of view, seems to be a natural place to stop inasmuch as the conjure woman is feeling her age–older than dirt–and the protagonist (Pollyanna) is moving from west Florida to Tallahassee (where I grew up).

I’ll always be tempted to search for that flow state again with these characters. Never say never, right? 

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

Save money on Kindle with the four-book set.

Liberty County Florida Scenes

Longleaf Pine Forest

Florida has many habitats. One of my favorites–one featured in my Florida Folk Magic Series–is the Longleaf Pine forest. This “Florida Memory” photo was taken in the Apalachicola National Forest near Bristol in West Florida:

Apalachicola River

Wikipedia Description: The river is formed on the state line between Florida and Georgia, near the town of Chattahoochee, Florida, approximately 60 miles (97 km) northeast of Panama City, by the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers. The actual confluence is contained within the Lake Seminole reservoir formed by the Jim Woodruff Dam. It flows generally south through the forests of the Florida Panhandle, past Bristol. In northern Gulf County, it receives the Chipola River from the west. It flows into Apalachicola Bay, an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico, at Apalachicola. The lower 30 mi (48 km) of the river is surrounded by extensive swamps and wetlands, except at the coast.

This “Florida Memory” photo shows the kind scene visible from the bluffs near Torreya State Park”

Torreya State Park

This park, on the Apalachicola River, is named for the rare and endangered Torreya Tree, found only in Florida.  This “Florida Memory” photo shows hikers on a trail near Rock Bluff:

Here’s a stone bridge at Torreya State Park built by the CCC in the 193os:

I was drawn to Liberty County as a setting for my four folk magic novels because I saw it often while growing up on family day trips and Scouting expeditions. As of the most recent census, it was the least populous county in Florida.

It was a wonderful setting for my fictional town of Torreya and my folk magic series.

Malcolm

If you read Kindle books, you can save money on my Florida Folk Magic Series by purchasing all four novels together in one book.

New edition of Florida Folk Magic ‘boxed set.’

The cover looks different at online sellers that don’t use the 3-D approach of the Kindle cover.

With the release of Fate’s Arrows, my publisher Thomas-Jacob has updated the so-called boxed set that features all four novels in the Florida Folk Magic Series in one large e-book. If you’re interested in the entire series, buying the novels this way will save money.

I’m also happy to announce that the hardcover edition of Fate’s Arrows is now available. Moving the hardcover into print was one of the things the pandemic slowed down.

We’ve started initial work on the audiobook, but down hold your breath. Audiobooks that are complete and ready to go are waiting a long time for Audible’s approval. (Another pandemic slowdown.)

Enjoy the books.

–Malcolm

My books take me by surprise

Writing books is fun because once I get into the story, I want to know how it’s going to end. I promise I have no idea until I get there.

I thought of writing Fate’s Arrows because a new character named Pollyanna showed up out of nowhere in Lena, my previous novel. She had a lot of sparkle and energy, so I thought, “Hmm, maybe she has enough spunk to carry a new novel on her own–rather like an actress with a small role in one movie who ends up staring in the studio’s next movie.”

While I planned for Fate’s Arrows to be a standalone novel, I set it in the same fictional town (Torreya) where the Florida Folk Magic Series was set. It’s not surprising, then, that the characters from the series began showing up and found important things to do.

Fate’s Arrows relies less on conjure and more on Pollyanna’s skills, skills that readers learn about as the story moves along. I can’t mention them here because they would be spoilers. Suffice it to say, she is a lot more than she appears while sitting behind the counter in the Mercantile balancing Lane Walker’s books. If you’re a bad person, don’t mess with her.

The Big Al’s Books and Pals nailed it in her review when she said, “Malcolm R Campbell is an author who has lived in the Florida panhandle (where this novel is set) and is old enough to remember the final days of the KKK. His anger about that organisation continues to burn, and this is an angry book.” 

I needed a protagonist who had the same hatred for the KKK I’ve always had and who had the guile and the grit to do something about it. If I’d tried to take the action she takes in the novel when I lived in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s and 1960s, I probably would have gotten killed–or worse.

Of course, Pollyanna has a strong supporting cast from the earlier books: Eulalie the conjure woman and her cat Lena, Willie Tate who knows how to get people out of trouble, Police chief Rudy Flowers, and others.

I admire Pollyanna and I think you will, too. She kept surprising me every with every risk she took.

Malcolm

Florida’s Pork Choppers

Native Floridians who were around during the 1950s probably remember the powerful Pork Chop Gang, a group of 20 movers and shakers who controlled Florida politics via backroom deals and strategic positions in the legislature. I thought of them today because the most powerful member was Ed Ball who ran the St. Joe Paper Company (mentioned in yesterday’s post).

The group fought against desegregation, communists, and homosexuals. Above is a group photograph of the wheelers and dealers taken turning a 1956 special session of the state senate. (Florida Memory Photo). You can read an article on Florida Memory about the gang here.

According to Wikipedia, “The spokesperson was Senator Charley Johns. They ‘had become unusually powerful in the 1950s because the legislative districts of the state had not been redrawn to account for the massive growth of urban areas in earlier years.’ The key figure in the group, coordinating their activities, although not a legislator, was industrialist Ed Ball. Their favorite haunt was the fish camp of legislator Raeburn C. Horne, at Nutall Rise, in Taylor County on the Aucilla River.”

Fish Camp on the Aucilla River where deals were made. Florida Memory Photo

The group finally lost its power after 1962 when the U.S. Supreme Court decreed that the state (or if needed, the Federal Government) had to go through some serious reapportionment to ensure that representation was based on the current population’s distribution.

I don’t miss them.

Malcolm