Open in App
  • Local
  • U.S.
  • Election
  • Politics
  • Crime
  • Sports
  • Lifestyle
  • Education
  • Real Estate
  • Newsletter
  • Florida Today

    'Freedom Never Dies': New children's book spells out life, activism of Harry and Harriette Moore

    By Finch Walker, Florida Today,

    25 days ago

    Almost 73 years ago, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore died after a bomb placed beneath the bedroom floor of their Mims home exploded — on Christmas.

    Nearly 70 years would pass before children in Brevard County began to learn the history of the couple slain in 1951, both teachers and activists and widely considered the first martyrs of the contemporary civil rights movement.

    It took a collective effort by local civil rights activists like William "Bill" Gary, president of North Brevard NAACP, and Brevard Federation of Teachers, to get curriculum about the Moores implemented in Brevard Public Schools. In 2021, the district added modules for kids in fourth, seventh, eighth and 10th grade. They also recognized the 1946 firing of the Moores as being racially motivated and reinstated them as "teachers emeritus."

    But Gary's goals went deeper than that. As president of the board of the Moore Cultural Complex, he wants to make sure as many people as possible learn the history of the Moores. That passion gave him an idea: Provide kids with an illustrated book telling the story of the Moores.

    This summer, with the help of a local teacher, he's seen that dream come to fruition. He and other members of the Moore Cultural Complex board of directors commissioned James Burks, an art teacher from Ralph Williams Elementary School in Rockledge, to create a 32-page picture book titled "Freedom Never Dies: The Story of Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore."

    "I think for those young students who read this book, it will give them a good basic introduction to these educators and civil rights heroes here in Brevard County," Gary said.

    The book's release coincides with Harriette Moore's birthday and Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Copies were handed out Saturday by the Little Black Book Drive at Cocoa's Juneteenth Arts and Cultural Festival at Riverfront Park, and will be distributed at the June 29 Juneteenth celebration at the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park in Mims. The book is also available at the Moore Cultural Complex's gift shop.

    "I think the timing is apropos," said Carshonda Wright, cultural center leader at the Moore Complex.

    "A book that celebrates people who took advantage of that time period to try and help others achieve the American dream is very great to come out at this time so it gives people a book about ... the knowledge that even through the times of oppression that were going on, there were still those people who rose to greatness when these types of laws and attitudes were trying to keep them in their place."

    Strength in troubled times

    The book, Gary said, is about the Moores' activism and their work as educators. But it also talks about their life as a family.

    "This was the typical American family, except they were on a path that ultimately led to their deaths," he said.

    Their values — the ones that shaped their family and their work — shine through in the book, and Gary hopes they'll inspire readers.

    "Harry Moore was a determined man, and he believed in those principles of justice and equality and fairness and education," Gary said. "That's things that we would like for young readers to take away from this."

    More: Civil rights martyrs leave a lasting legacy: Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore

    Celebrate Juneteenth: Juneteenth 2024: Here's a guide to celebrations in Brevard

    Anthony Colucci, president of Brevard Federation of Teachers, didn't have any involvement with the book's creation. However, he fought alongside Gary to get the Moore curriculum implemented in Brevard Public Schools and is passionate about kids learning about the history of the Moores and their activism — especially because that history wasn't so long ago.

    "They learn the important lesson that's not ancient history, which is that it was a struggle for African Americans right here in Brevard county in the state of Florida, to have the right to vote and to exercise that right to vote," Colucci said.

    "They paid the ultimate price for making that effort."

    And it's not just about what kids will learn. Wright hopes as parents read the book to their kids, they recognize the strength the Moores had and find hope.

    "I think that the parents will understand that even though it was a time that we were not being treated fairly, there were still people who were able to excel in life, who were able to build upon, and then help those people who were still being oppressed or who couldn't see a way out — help them to see that, 'You too can do this, and I'm going to make it easier because I'm going to stand in the gap for you,'" she said.

    Representation matters

    Bernard Bryan attended elementary school in the early '60s in Charleston, South Carolina. Segregation had been outlawed, but it would be years before schools would be fully integrated.

    During Bryan's early school years, all of his teachers were Black, he said — a factor that would have a huge impact on him.

    "When I was growing up, I had mentors in front of me," he said. "I had people that were professors, principals, people who are talented in the educational arena."

    Bryan, a Brevard resident who has spent more than half a decade advocating for Black students on the Space Coast, said from a young age, his teachers encouraged him to become educated and to make something of his life. It was their encouragement, and seeing people who looked like him, that encouraged him to do just that.

    Here in Brevard, the number of Black teachers and administrators is much lower than what Bryan experienced growing up. Data from the 2019-2020 school year showed that there were only 247 Black teachers, which is about 5% of the total teacher population. 85% of the teacher population for the same year was white. That same year, Black principals and Black assistant principals made up 9% of each given population.

    FLORIDA TODAY requested more recent data more than seven months ago, but the request went unanswered.

    But seeing a teacher who looks like you isn't the only way to feel connection, Bryan said. He's excited for "Freedom Never Dies," saying the Moores are people Black youth can relate to and work to emulate.

    "It's a wonderful thing (to feel) that, 'Now I can take pride in my ethnicity,'" he said. "I think if you can read that early, if you can understand that pretty early in your life, it helps that child become a much more productive citizen."

    While the book is a way for some kids to see themselves, for others, it will be a way to better understand their peers.

    Sonya Mallard, cultural center coordinator at the Moore Cultural Complex, said it can be a tool to help introduce kids to cultural differences and even prevent biases from forming.

    "The book could inspire children to stand up against injustice, promote equality and work toward a more inclusive society," she said. "I think it can make them become agents of positive change and their little communities at a young age."

    Accurate history prevails

    Even though the Moores' history is now taught in Brevard Public Schools, young people still lack knowledge regarding both Brevard County and the nation as a whole, Gary said. This is often through no fault of their own, but how history has been taught to them.

    "The Moores were murdered before the beginning of the so-called modern civil rights movement, and were not included in many of the history books," Gary said. "Students, even if they read history and stuff, they may not come across much about the Moores."

    BPS incorporating a field trip for eighth-graders to the Moore Complex was "monumental," Gary said. And the children's book is just another step in making sure kids are educated.

    "Anything that helps make the public aware, students aware, of the Moores' history is always on my mind," he said.

    Gary's activism comes at a time when Florida's legislature and state board of education have pushed back against so-called critical race theory — the concept that racism is inherent in many parts of Western society — and DEI in the classroom and workplace. Florida's social studies standards were also updated in 2023, then again this year, to include a benchmark that says that enslaved people benefited from slavery .

    It's a "very problematic" point, Colucci said.

    "We support accurate and honest history being taught," Colucci said. "As a national board certified social studies teacher, as somebody who majored in history in college, I believe (to say enslaved people benefited from slavery) to be historically inaccurate, and I'd be interested in seeing the evidence of how slavery benefited slaves."

    Bryan recently returned from a visit to the International African American Museum in Charleston. He was surprised, he said, to find out how talented enslaved people were and how, in many cases, they came to the U.S. with these skills. It's a topic he feels has been distorted both in schools and throughout society at large — something that's ultimately detrimental, especially for Black youth.

    "A lot of people that are marginalized don't have that visualization of what they can accomplish in spite of the odds, in spite of hard times," he said. "I think that is a missing link of history that was not being taught correctly."

    The hope is that "Freedom Never Dies" can be a part of helping to fill in those gaps.

    Mallard also hopes it can serve as a reminder of the country's history, and as a guide for the future.

    "Yes, have we made mistakes? Of course America has made mistakes, but do we want to continue (on) that road?" she said.

    "I just think that we need to embrace everyone."

    Finch Walker is the education reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Walker at . X: @_ finchwalker .

    This article originally appeared on Florida Today: 'Freedom Never Dies': New children's book spells out life, activism of Harry and Harriette Moore

    Expand All
    Comments / 0
    Add a Comment
    Most Popular newsMost Popular
    Total Apex Sports & Entertainment28 days ago

    Comments / 0