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Racism and Civil Rights

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It is one of the enduring paradoxes of American racism that those black Americans most likely to exercise their full rights as citizens - to vote, to stand, to speak out - are the most likely to be branded as unpatriotic.

"Of course the fact that a person believes in racial equality doesn't prove that he's a communist," said the chairman of a loyalty review board, one of the McCarthyite kangaroo courts that sat in judgment of possible communists, in the 50s. "But it certainly makes you look twice, doesn't it? You can't get away from the fact that racial equality is part of the communist line."

Assuming that African-Americans could not possibly work out that white supremacy was not in their interests by themselves, their detractors routinely accused them of acting under influences both foreign and malign. The FBI wasted millions of dollars and hours trying in vain to prove that Martin Luther King was a communist. For those who would not know their place and were not assassinated, the punishment was often the revocation of whatever rights of citizenship they had. Already denied the vote, freedom of movement and association, Paul Robeson was refused a passport in 1950 and confined to the US. When his lawyers asked why, they were told that "his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries". In 1963 the intellectual and activist WEB Dubois was similarly grounded without passport privileges and so moved to the recently liberated Ghana.

The struggle for racial equality in America has always essentially been a battle for full citizenship. In a country founded on the principles of the enlightenment and built on the backs of slaves, it has long exposed the tension between the country's promise and its practice. The founding fathers held both that all men were equal - and that a slave was worth three-fifths of a man. Sooner or later, the nation would implode under the weight of these constitutional contradictions.


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Seeking Armageddon: The Four-Year Effort to Murder Martin Luther King Jr. [Paperback]

Larry Joe Hancock (Author), Stuart Wexler (Author

Congradulations guys.

I know you both put a lot of work into this.

Bill Kelly

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''Murder of Harry & Harriette Moore

In the 1930s Harry Moore and his wife Harriette begin organizing for the NAACP in central Florida. They launch a legal struggle that eventually wins equal pay for Black and white teachers. In 1941, Harry becomes President and later Executive Director of the Florida state NAACP. Under their leadership, the NAACP eventually grows to more than 10,000 members in more than 60 branches across the state.

[until 1944, the "all-white" primary is used to disenfranchise Blacks throughout the South. Out of hatred for Lincoln, fury at their defeat in the Civil War, and rage at the Emancipation of their Black slaves, whites in the South vote only for Democrats. With most Blacks denied the vote, no Republican can be ever be elected in the South, so the real election is the Democratic Primary. Whichever Democrat wins the primary inevitably wins the general election. By limiting the Democratic Primary to whites, the few Blacks who do manage to register are effectively disenfranchised because they are not allowed to vote in the only elections that have any meaning (the primaries).]

In 1944, Thurgood Marshall wins Smith v. Allwright in the U.S. Supreme Court which rules that "all-white" primary elections are unconstitutional. With Blacks now allowed to vote in the real elections, the Moores organize the Progressive Voters League of Florida and Harry becomes its President. Florida's voter registration procedures are not as restrictive as those of neighboring Georgia and Alabama, and within a few years the Moores manage to register over 100,000 Black voters, increasing Black registration from 5% to 31% of those eligible. Their slogan is "A Voteless Citizen is a Voiceless Citizen."

For years, Harry travels Florida's muddy backroads and poorly paved highways building the NAACP, helping Blacks register, and organizing the Voters League. In the segregated south, "white" restaurants won't serve him and "white" motels won't rent him a room, many gas stations refuse to sell him fuel or let him use the restroom. Then in 1950, the NAACP's national leadership objects to Harry's dual role as both the salaried state Executive Director of the officially non-partisan NAACP and President of the Voters League which endorses candidates. In November of 1951 they remove him as Executive Director.

In the late 1940s, a major focus of the Moores work is investigating lynchings in Florida and demanding justice for the victims. In 1949, four young Black men are accused of raping a white girl in Lake County near Orlando, at that time a Klan stronghold. Later evidence indicates that the 17 year old girl had been beaten by her husband, and that they concocted a phony rape story to conceal the beating from her parents who had threatened to shoot him if he brutalized her again.

Charles Greenlee (age 16) and war veterans Sam Shepherd and Walter Irvin are arrested for the supposed rape. Ernest Thomas manages to flee, but is gunned down by a Sheriff's posse a few days later. A mob of more than 500 white men assembles to lynch the remaining three. When they can't locate the prisoners, they form a caravan of 200 cars and descend on the Black neighborhood of Groveland where the accused and their families live. They shoot into homes and set some on fire. The Florida Governor has to send in the National Guard to restore order.

Willis McCall, the Sheriff of Lake County, is notorious for his brutality against Blacks. Elected year-after-year with the support of the citrus growers, he supplies them with cheap, chain-gang prison labor at harvest time by arresting Blacks on trumped up charges for minor crimes when the ripe fruit needs to be picked. He also runs union organizers out of the county.

The Moores discover that while in McCall's custody the three Groveland defendants were brutally beaten and made to stand on broken glass with their hands roped to a pipe over their heads. Despite this torture, they refused to confess to a crime they did not commit. Unable to force a confession, McCall's deputies manufacture enough phony evidence to convince an all-white jury. Shepherd and Irvin are sentenced to death, 16-year old Greenlee is sentenced to prison.

Greenlee chooses not to appeal out of fear that a new trial would result in a death sentence. Franklin Williams, Shepherd and Irvin's NAACP attorney, appeals their conviction and it is overturned by the Supreme Court in 1951.

In November of 1951, Sheriff McCall removes the two men from prison. While driving them to Lake County for their new trial, he shoots them, killing Shepherd and severely wounding Irvin. He claims that the two handcuffed and manacled prisoners attacked him while trying to escape. When Irvin recovers enough to speak, he describes how McCall pulled his car off the road, dragged the two men out, and began firing. The Moores demand that McCall be suspended from office and indicted for murder. No charges are ever brought against McCall.

With the Groveland rape trial, appeal, and murders fanning the flames of racism, Harry Moore is called "The most hated Black man in Florida." His mother, visiting for the holidays, voices concern for the Moore's safety. Harry tells her, "Every advancement comes by way of sacrifice. What I am doing is for the benefit of my race."

Late in the night on Christmas Eve, 1951, a bomb explodes under Harry and Harriette's bedroom. He dies on the way to the hospital, she dies of her injuries 9 days later. They are the first Freedom Movement martyrs of the post-WWII era. Though it is widely known that the Ku Klux Klan planted the bomb, no one is ever charged in their murder.

  • [in 2001 PBS broadcasts
Freedom Never Dies a documentary about the Moores and their assasination. This reawakens interest in the Moores and their murder and after articles appear in the press, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist reopens the case. In 2006 — 55 years after the fact — Crist's 20-month re-investigation concludes that KKK leaders Earl Brooklyn, Tillman Belvin, Joseph Cox and Edward Spivey (all deceased) killed the Moores.]''

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