Flashback Friday – When Racial Terror Struck Florida and how Charlie Crist Played Hero

Attorney General Crist in 2005 discussing the case

One of the darkest episodes in Florida’s history, the murder of NAACP leader Harry T. Moore. In 1951 when Moore was murdered in Mims, local Democrats in Lake, Orange and Brevard County were not only segregationists but were sympathetic to hoodlums in the Ku Klux Klan. Even worse yet was the infamous Willis V. McCall, the Lake County Sheriff who was in the 1950s the best known local enforcement officer in the state, more powerful than Governors in some ways and a close ally of Klan. McCall was national figure of some stature, and cast a very negative image on Florida, a state that was even more dependent on tourism at that point in time.

PBS  produced a documentary called Freedom Never Dies: The Legacy of Harry T. Moore  which contained a whole section on Moore. Under Moore’s leadership African-American registration rose 31% in Florida between World War II and the 1950 election. But Florida in the McCarthy era was as reactionary a state as any in the union. The 1950 election saw Senator Claude Pepper, one of the leading liberals in the country defeated by Ed Ball’s coalition of business groups and Governor Fuller Warren, a populist (and a former Klan member himself) survived several impeachment attempts as he tried to move the state forward economically. (Warren was a classic southern populist of the day- racist to his core at least rhetorically while being for the “little guy,” meaning poor whites. This caused problems with the established order.)

Moore’s involvement in a number of high profile cases including the “Groveland Four” case led to his targeting by the state’s political hierarchy.  The Groveland Case became an international event with the Soviet Union exploiting it for propaganda purposes. While Moore’s death on Christmas Night 1951 was thought to be linked to the Groveland case, the FBI which under J. Edgar Hoover tended to be hostile to Civil Rights yet very aggressive in targeting domestic terrorism (hence, Hoover’s simultaneous harassment of Martin Luther King AND the Ku Klux Klan) did an extensive investigation which could not link McCall and the Lake County Klan.

The state’s Democratic Party establishment wanted to sweep the entire episode under the rug. Despite efforts by African-American leaders to reopen the case time and again, the Democrats who ran FDLE and the AG’s office through the years avoided the subject. For newer political activists, it may come as a surprise but a large part of the Democratic Party’s establishment in the 1990s in the state was still tied to areas of Florida where racial wounds had not been healed. It should also be noted at the time that the I-4 corridor areas of the state were more Republican than they are today, meaning Democrats needed to win in the Big Bend and Panhandle, as well as the rural counties in the middle of the state to be successful statewide.

So the Democrats did nothing to reopen these cases or get to the truth. But Charlie Crist who won the Attorney General’s election in 2002 was a Republican and not encumbered by these considerations.

Attorney General Crist pushed publicly for an aggressive FDLE investigation into the Moore murder and other Civil Rights related tragedies. In 2005, FDLE concluded the culpability of the elected officials (all Democrats) in Orange County who had aligned with the Klan, and that the four men responsible for Moore’s murder were from Orange County.

Christmas Day 1951, terror and political assassination rolled into one stuck Florida. The state’s Democratic Party hierarchy reacted with scorn to the national press calling for an FBI Investigation. Legislative leadership in Florida began using the terms “outside agitators” and state sovereignty, themes that would dominate the rhetoric of the next decade in Florida politics.

We should never forget the murder of Harry T. Moore, Florida’s brush with terrorism and the the appropriate event that started the Civil Rights revolution in Florida. Additionally, Charlie Crist deserves full marks for his willingness to stand the establishment in the eye and deal with this tragedy once and for all.


  1. Yellow Dog Democrat · ·

    Thanks Kartik for bringing out the truth in a sad and troubling time in my and our home state that I personally lived through as well.

    I hope that articles like this will help convince Nan Rich and her ardent supporters that, Charlie Crist may not be perfect or their candidate, but it’s time for Nan to recognize that she has no prayer and it’s time to get behind Charlie because the alternative would be a horrible loss for the Democrats…and the entire State of Florida!


    1. Dog find another bone to pick.


  2. Geoff Harkins · ·

    Really good article. People need to read this!!!!!


  3. Really important read here.

    Makes me think differently of Crist.


  4. Dems in 14 · ·

    This shows exactly why all true progressives will support Charlie Crist.

    His commitment to social and racial justice us far beyond that of any of his opponents in either party.

    He must be elected or the Scott backed racists that run Florida will ruin this state and put blacks back in chains.


    1. He must be elected or the Scott backed racists that run Florida will ruin this state and put blacks back in chains.

      Absolutely ridiculous claims. It’s these sorts of over the top things some Democrats say about issues like race that make us look so stupid. That’s race-baiting.


  5. Go Charlie Go! · ·

    Does the new patron saint of the progressives including the Democratic Progressive Caucus have this sort of record of standing firm
    on civil rights??? I am speaking of Nan Rich. What is her record of leadership on these matters?

    This video and excellent write up from KK demonstrates the long commitment Charlie Crist has had to our causes and our views.

    Rick Scott has no counter to this. This is a man of courage who even as a republican stood tall. Now he is where he can be comfortable.


    1. Nan Rich has a long record on these issues as well.

      Regarding the partisanship of this, as I wrote last week after the Jorge Ramos interview, the racial baggage and scars from the 50s and 60s were mostly on the Dem side of the aisle so being a GOPer allowed Crist an ability to adlib his civil rights positions without any fear. Honestly, being a Republican helped him find his feet on this issue.


  6. Realist · ·

    Crist of course alleged race caused him to switch parties.

    Honestly the race card works both ways. His decision to play the race card time and again could turn out conservatives. This prosecution was all about political grandstanding and getting black votes for his 2006 Governors race.

    Crist got 20% of the black vote in 2006, a high water mark for republicans in this state.

    Now as a Dem he’s going hog wild on race, stand your ground talking about the GOP being racist etc.

    It might fire up the base but it’s hurting his general chances.


  7. Crist the opportunist as shown yet again here.


  8. Charlie Crist call me 386 788 3885 ASAP or if after July 13th 517 423 3028….Oh, if you don’t you will for sure lose to Honorable Governor Scott. It is your choice a comment from a point east of your birth place and not far from the other chocolate factory town. Simple Call or allow Nan Rich to lose to Honorable Governor Scott who has money…to buy your birth place and mail it to you in Over night boxes. YOU really should be the owner of that Chocolate town factory building.


  9. […] more lynchings per capita than any other state in the union. It was a state that gave us Rosewood and the “Groveland Four.” But by 1960, Florida was the most urban state in the south and by 1980 it was one of the […]


  10. […] more lynchings per capita than any other state in the union. It was a state that gave us Rosewood and the “Groveland Four.” But by 1960, Florida was the most urban state in the south and by 1980 it was one of the most […]


%d bloggers like this: