DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This week, documents surfaced that shed light on how and why some early African-American voters left the party of Lincoln and became Democrats. The papers were stuffed in a briefcase that belonged to one of Florida's civil rights pioneers, Harry T. Moore.
Moore was executive director of the Florida NAACP and during the 1930s and '40s he championed black voting rights. His briefcase had been missing for more than half a century, ever since he and his wife Harriette were killed on Christmas night in 1951; that's when a bomb ripped through the family's home in rural Mims, Florida.
Ms. EVANGELINE MOORE (Daughter of Harry T. Moore): My parents were thrown all the way up through the ceiling and through the rafters on the house. And they landed back in a hole and all of the rafters that they had caused to be loosened, the furniture and everything was on top of them.
ELLIOTT: Evangeline was 21 years old at that time.
Ms. MOORE: The end of my world had just come. My parents were my whole world, especially my daddy.
ELLIOTT: Ms. Moore lost most of her childhood memories after that tragedy. But today she is learning about her family's history through the newspaper clippings and meticulous records her father kept in his briefcase. The satchel was recently discovered just a half of mile from where the Moore's home once stood in a barn that was about to be torn down to make way for development.
We visited Evangeline Moore at her home in New Carrollton, Maryland to find out more about the long, missing briefcase.
Ms. MOORE: It had been turned over to the Brevard County authorities the night of the bombing. And we had sort of looked forward it since that time and it never turned up, so I had about forgotten it because it should have been in a property room storing murder investigation material at the Brevard County Courthouse - that's logical. When it got to the cow barn, I've no idea.
ELLIOTT: Now who found it?
Ms. MOORE: Historian Roz Foster with the North Brevard County Historical Society. The briefcase was in a box. It was standing up on two huge jars with a lid from a trashcan on top of it. So when Roz took the cover off and looked at it closer, she said, ah, Harry T. Moore. It was dad's briefcase.
ELLIOTT: They have given you all the papers in the briefcase. I see before us, you have them organized in big fat notebooks.
Ms. MOORE: Yeah.
ELLIOTT: There are at least five of these books.
Ms. MOORE: Yes.
ELLIOTT: What happened to the briefcase itself?
Ms. MOORE: It fell apart when they touched it. It will be shipped to me. Although it's in shambles, I want to see it and I want it in my possession.
ELLIOTT: Would you share for us some of the documents?
Ms. MOORE: Papers concerning projects that my dad was involved in. I have a lot of newspaper articles that he wrote on various subjects; particularly I was interested in one that he wrote an article to the paper stating why should Negroes become Democrats, because he was the one who forced the state of Florida to allow blacks to register Democrat and vote in the Democratic primary.
ELLIOTT: Now, this was at a time when the Democratic Party was the dominant party in states like Florida, so by winning a Democratic primary you were pretty much assured a win in the general election. This was also a time when most blacks were associated with the Republican Party.
Ms. MOORE: Yes, they were. But the Democratic primary was the election which determined state and local officials. When they could only vote Republican, they have no voice at all. But by becoming Democrats they could decide who the sheriff was going to be, who the governor was going to be, and that had never happened.
ELLIOTT: Harry T. Moore documented the ways white registrars kept black voters from registering as Democrats.
Ms. MOORE: Here's a section in here of affidavits. Henry Day Strickland, 55, Box 101, Mims, Florida - lived in Mims, Florida since 1914, has been registered consistently since almost 1914 - always Republican because he wanted to try to change his registration from Republican to Democrat. She said, Didn't have no instructions to change and therefore she did not say she would see Bailey - that was the person in charge of registration - and find out. Saw her after that and she said Bailey had instructed her to make no change.
So this particular bunch of affidavits were when he was trying to force the attorney general, whose name was Tom Watson, to make sure that he sent out definite instructions to all of the registrants that they could not avoid registering blacks as Democrat or changing their registration. And I don't how many letters and calls dad made. But in the end, Tom Watson finally sent the instructions along to all the registrants in the state of Florida. So we got it done.
ELLIOTT: Now, this was in the '30s and '40s. This was pre-Voting Rights Act. But yet your father had the vision to see that black political power could be a force back then.
Ms. MOORE: Yes, he did. He knew it. He didn't have to assume it, but he knew it. Dad was the first civil rights martyr. My dad and mom are the only couple who died in the civil rights fights. And dad did things that were completely and positively unheard of. No small-statured black man, quiet but oh so forceful, would have taken up the fight for the things that he fought for.
ELLIOTT: What do you think gave him his passion? What do you think motivated him to do this?
Ms. MOORE: He was a child of God and he believed that God sent him on a mission, just like he sent Moses on his mission. And nothing but nothing and nobody but nobody was going to deter him. He had a mission and he fulfilled it.
ELLIOTT: Evangeline Moore, thank you so much for talking with us.
Ms. MOORE: You're welcome.
ELLIOTT: Florida authorities say the contents of Harry T. Moore's briefcase revealed nothing new about the bombing that killed him and his wife Harriett in 1951. Last year the state named four now-dead Ku Klux Klansmen as the killers; they never faced trial.
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