May we never forget the history of Sanford, Florida. How could so much happen in one place? It was in Sanford that Harry T. Moore, pictured here, the NAACP’s lone man in Florida and the first casualty of the modern civil rights movement, took his last breath after his home was firebombed in 1951.
Moore, a teacher by training, risked his life in the 1930s and ’40s, long before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks came on the scene. He investigated lynchings, protested segregated schools and taught black people how to vote in a state where the NAACP was a banned organization, where, according to his biographer, “no restaurant would serve him, no motel would house him, and some gas stations wouldn’t let him fill his tank, empty his bladder or even use the phone.”
On Christmas night, 1951, a bomb exploded under Moore’s bed at his home in Mims, Fla. It was his and his wife’s 25th wedding anniversary. The closest hospital was 35 miles away — in Sanford. There was a delay in getting the couple there. Then there was a delay in getting a black doctor to attend to them. They both died in Sanford. No one spent a day in jail for their murders.
One of Moore’s recruits was George Starling, a citrus picker who led strikes in the groves for better working conditions; the work was dangerous and the pay was nickels for a day’s labor. It was in Sanford that Starling had a final standoff with a grove owner that set in motion plans to lynch him. He fled to New York for his life.
The next year, white leaders drove baseball legend Jackie Robinson out of Sanford during spring training, 1946.
Decades later, it was in Sanford that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking home in the rain, while being followed by George Zimmerman. Harry T. Moore and George Starling would have been deeply saddened by the Zimmerman verdict, but not surprised. The scenario, to them, would be all too familiar. History is with us always. May we learn and gather strength from it and be inspired by the courage of men like Harry T. Moore. May their sacrifices not have been in vain.
— The Warmth of Other Suns