Members implicated in long-unsolved Fla. murder

4 KKK

Suspects, all dead, are accused of bombing black activists' home in 1951

August 18, 2006|By MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE

MIAMI -- More than half a century after a Christmas Day explosion killed a black activist couple, Florida prosecutors have accused four Ku Klux Klan members of the long-unsolved crime.

The four Klan members, who are all dead, are accused of planting the bomb at the home of Harry T. and Harriette Moore, the original architects of the state's civil rights movement, teachers and quiet leaders who fought against lynchings and police brutality. They were killed nearly 55 years ago, on their 25th wedding anniversary, becoming two of the country's early civil rights martyrs.

For years, the 1951 bombing remained a tragic stain on Mims, a small citrus town just north of Cape Canaveral, and one of the nation's longest unsolved civil-rights crime cases.

But on Wednesday, state Attorney General Charlie Crist delivered justice under an oak tree just a few yards from where the Moores' home stood, now the site of a cultural center honoring the couple.

"Almost 55 years ago, an act of domestic terrorism took place at this site," Crist told a crowd of about 200, including one of the couple's daughters. "A cowardly act of violence took the life of one of America's first civil rights pioneers."

Evangeline Moore, now retired and living in Maryland, said she is relieved by the news.

"Today, I am perfectly satisfied with what they have found and what they have reported," she said.

Crist said strong circumstantial evidence - unearthed during a 20-month investigation - points to ultra-violent factions within the KKK "as being responsible for this horrible act."

Those implicated were Earl J. Brooklyn, Tillman H. Bevlin, Joseph N. Cox and Edward L. Spivey. Crist, who said others might have been involved, failed to elaborate on the roles each man played.

The Moore case was one of the nation's 15 known civil rights "cold cases" of crimes committed before 1968. Justice has been slow - cases are often crippled by aging or dead suspects and witnesses, faded memories and lost evidence - but prosecutors and state officials recently began re-examining hate crimes, committed mostly in the Deep South. There have been successes.

"It doesn't seem like much after all these years, but these families need closure," said Susan Glisson, who heads a racial reconciliation center at the University of Mississippi. "It's about healing."

Last year, a Mississippi jury convicted a preacher of the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers who were helping to register voters. In April 2005, Gov. Jeb Bush asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the case of Johnnie Mae Chappell, a black woman randomly killed in Jacksonville on her way home 42 years ago.

In the Moore case, investigators interviewed more than 100 people and combed through 50 years of documents. The bomb site was excavated, though it yielded no new evidence.

But the stories of witnesses did. They told of a particularly violent group of men who were working to squash the Moores' efforts.

At the time, Harry Moore, who founded the Brevard County chapter of the NAACP, was registering large numbers of blacks to vote and protesting the circumstances around a rape trial in Groveland, including the killing of two of the defendants by the Lake County sheriff, Crist said.

Such activism, in a state still under the thumb of Jim Crow, drew the ire of the Klan.

On Christmas night 1951, the Moores had just gone to bed when the bomb exploded. Harry Moore was killed in the blast. His wife died nine days later. Their daughter Annie Rosalea was uninjured. Evangeline was traveling home by train when it happened.

For years, the case lingered, lacking enough conclusive evidence to support charges, though state and federal officials had previously identified suspects.

Spivey reportedly confessed to investigators and an anonymous tipster before he died of cancer in 1980. But by that time, the case was nearly 30 years old and the other three men were long dead.

Bevlin died less than a year after the bombing, reportedly of natural causes. Brooklyn died on the attack's one-year anniversary, and Cox committed suicide in 1952 - one day after an interview with the FBI about the case.

With Wednesday's announcement, Evangeline Moore is hopeful that her parents will be nationally celebrated and memorialized for their civil rights work.

"My dad was the first civil rights martyr in the United States," Moore said. "He has not been recognized as such, and that is very, very wrong."

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