Christmas Day Marks the Death of America’s First Civil Rights Martyr

Harry T. Moore
Harry T. Moore

Who among us has the courage of Harry Tyson Moore, a Florida schoolteacher turned activist who became the first martyr of the Civil Rights Movement? True commitment to a worthy cause comes with a price, a cost Moore paid dearly.

At 10:20 p.m. on Christmas Day, 1951, a bomb planted under Moore’s home in Mims, Fla., exploded, ending the lives of Moore and his wife of 25 years, Harriette, who died from her wounds a week later.

Moore was the Florida coordinator of the NAACP, crisscrossing the backroads of the Sunshine State in the 1940s to educate and organize black people. Investigating lynchings, registering black voters, writing letters of protest to state officials — all in the face of intense bigotry and personal danger — Moore blazed a trail as a civil rights leader long before the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X or Medgar Evers came to national attention.

To date, no one has been convicted for the crime.

Source: Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr by Ben Green 2005 The University Press of Florida

A Floridian’s Memory of Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune

“As a boy growing up in Daytona, I was of course familiar with how Mary McLeod Bethune started her school and I knew the mission she felt she was fulfilling. Very often she would come to our church, usually on the fifth Sunday night, and she would talk of her dreams for Negro youth. Often she would sing a solo Always the congregation gave her collection for her work …”  — Howard Thurman


Source: With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman  Harcourt Brace & Co. 1979 p. 23

Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten


Is Miami a Good Place to Be Black?

downtown_miami_skyline_may_2011“Back in 1982, when the Economist reported that ‘Miami is not a good city in which to be black,’ the local Chamber of Commerce reacted with anger and amazement. But the truth is that Florida, including Miami, seldom if ever has been a good place to be black.”

Source: City of the Future  by T.D. Allman University Press of Florida, 1987 p. 144

Photo Credit: Dan Christensen

Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott …


“In Jacksonville, after the city council in 1901 had passed a bill over the articulated opposition of the Negro community and its two Negro councilmen, colored people angrily stayed off the [street]cars in an attempt to pressure the mayor into vetoing the bill. This boycotting proved futile, as did a similar step by Pensacola Negroes four years later, when they tried to force the city’s streetcar company to lobby against the Avery streetcar-segregation bill, then before the Legislature.”

Source:  “The Boycott Movement Against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900-1906”  by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick; The Journal of American History Volume 55, Issue 4 (March 1969)   pages 760-761

When an Honest Face Could Secure a Loan

“I needed a little money to expand my undertaking business. I went to Mr. Roddy Burdine and told him all about it, and asked him to loan me some money. He said I had an honest face, and he loaned me $900 without any security except my word. That’s the kind of friend he was.”Kelsey L. Pharr

Source: American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1940

Jim Crow Enforces Its Own Cuban Embargo

Thanks to President Obama, new attitudes about the Cuban embargo and the growing clout of Cuban millennials, the Cold War policies that kept Americans away from Cuba are changing. Visits to the island nation are now an option, as is the legal purchase of a good Cuban cigar.

Black folk thought so, too. Of course that happened decades before Fidel Castro. In 1939, the Baltimore Afro-American broke an interesting story of racial discrimination. Pan Am Airlines, according to the story, was charging black travelers to Cuba an additional $200. Why? The airline was just doing its part.pan_american_airlines_logo_001-svg

Back then, conventional wisdom was to keep Cuba’s hotels as racially segregated as possible. Thus, the airline came up with the not-so-bright idea of charging black travelers more money to discourage them from visiting Cuba. True story!

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Bad press and a budding war effort forced Pan-Am to stop  the practice. Pan-Am went on to become the first airline to sign non-discrimination contracts with black-owned travel agencies.

Sources: A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Making of Jim Crow by N.D.B. Connolly University of Chicago Press, 2014 p. 111 and “Cuba Welcomes US Tourists, Blames Airline for Jim Crow” Baltimore Afro-American July 13, 1940; and “Pan American Line Boasts of Race Equality” Chicago Defender Feb. 16, 1946

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Checkers Speech and A Chance to Get Ahead

In 1908, William B. Sawyer arrived in Miami. A physician who became a wealthy landlord, a hotel owner and a crusader against tuberculosis in South Florida, Sawyer often offered sage advice over one of his favorite pastimes — checkers.the_childrens_museum_of_indianapolis_-_checkers

“In his more quiet moments, Sawyer enjoyed passing the time playing checkers with other men on the front porch of his doctor’s office in Colored Town. Between jumps, according to observers many years later, Sawyer would encourage his friends and neighbors to pool their money, buy land and “become taxpayers.” Sawyer likely explained how owning property allowed colored people to vote in “freeholder” elections. The names of new black deed holders were also printed in the newspaper every year, serving as public recognition of the Negro’s economic discipline.”

Sources: A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida  by N.D.B. Connolly The University of Chicago Press 2014 p. 30; and South Florida’s Black Business Pioneers Paved Way for Others, Miami Herald Jan. 31, 2000

Photo Credit: Black Market