RACE VIOLENCE in Florida flared often during the past year, but it took the bomb murder of Florida NAACP leader Harry T. Moore to focus worldwide attention on violence in the state.
Racial tension in the state has been building up ever since four Negro youths were arrested in Lake County in 1949 and charged with the rape of a young white housewife. One of the youths was killed by a posse, the three others were tried and one was given life while Samuel Shepherd and Walter Lee Irvin, both 23, were sentenced to death. The NAACP led a fight to free the condemned men and the U. S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. Death entered the picture again when Sheriff Willis V. McCall killed Shepherd and wounded Irvin, claiming they had tried to escape while being taken to Tavares for a court hearing. Known as the "Groveland Case" and "The Little Scottsboro Case," the trails and the "legal murder" stirred up strong feelings both among Negroes and whites.
The Groveland Case was but one incident in a series of violent racial incidents during 1951. Prior to the lynching of Melvin Womack, another Negro, Willie Vincent, had been beaten by three white men and tossed from a speeding car with a fractured skull. In the same area, Luther Coleman, a Negro janitor at the Winter Garden elementary school, was beaten up by white men and a teen-age shoe shine boy, Jimmy Woodards, was shot five times but recovered.
Moore spoke out against the floggings and beatings. He was interested in the Groveland case and campaigned for the prosecution of the sheriff that shot the two Negro youths in the case. Moore was well thought of by most whites in the area. One business-man in nearby Orlando, who had known Moore in political work, said Moore was a "level-headed man with a deep feeling for his people. Moore wasn't an extremist. He wasn't a rabble-rouser."
Quiet and controlled as they were, Moore's speeches and his activities were enough to enflame many Southern whites against him. When he and his wife retired on Christmas night after a ham and turkey dinner with his mother, his daughter Annie, and his wife's brother, M/Sgt. George Simms, who had just returned from Korea, it was just a little after 10 p.m. The family had not opened their Christmas presents for they were waiting for Moore's daughter, Evangeline, to come home from Washington, D. C.
Moore never got to see what was in the gaily-wrapped packages. About ten minutes after the lights were turned out in the most cottage, someone placed a powerful explosive (probably nitroglycerine) under the bedroom floor and the blast fatally injured both Moore and his wife.
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