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Juanita Evangeline Moore dies at 85, preserved legacy of parents killed in civil rights movement

Juanita Evangeline Moore stands by a picture of

Juanita Evangeline Moore stands by a picture of her parents, civil rights pioneer Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriette, as she fields questions after a news conference in Orlando, Fla., Monday, Aug. 15, 2005. Credit: AP / Peter Cosgrove

Juanita Evangeline Moore, who sought to preserve the often-forgotten legacy of her activist parents, whose deaths in a 1951 Christmas bombing at their home in Florida were called the nation's first civil rights assassination, was found dead Monday at her home in New Carrollton, Maryland. She was 85.

Her son, Drapher "Skip" Pagan Jr., said she died sometime after going to bed Saturday. The cause has not been determined.

Moore was working for the federal government when she boarded a train in Washington on Dec. 26, 1951, to join her parents, Harry and Harriette Moore, for a holiday celebration at their home in Mims, Florida.

Only when she stepped off the train a day later did she learn of the family tragedy that sparked international outrage.

"They're the only husband and wife who died in the civil rights struggle," Ben Green, the author of "Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr," said Wednesday.

Harry Moore had been an advocate for racial justice in Florida since at least 1934, when he formed a chapter of the NAACP in Brevard County.

The Moores were teachers and administrators in black schools of Brevard's segregated education system.

Working with a civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, Harry Moore filed suit in 1937 over disparities between the salaries of black and white teachers in Florida.

Moore later became state secretary of the NAACP and, in 1944, organized the Florida Progressive Voters League, which registered more than 100,000 black citizens to vote, giving the state the highest proportion of African-American voters in the South.

Beginning in 1945, Moore began to investigate cases of police brutality and lynchings throughout Florida. Evangeline Moore helped her father work on his speeches and typed the letters he sent to officials.

The Moores were fired from their jobs by the all-white Brevard County school board in 1946, but continued their activism. On Christmas Day 1951 -- also their 25th wedding anniversary -- the Moores returned home from a celebratory dinner.

Not long after the lights were turned out, there was an explosion that was heard more than four miles away. A bomb had gone off directly under the Moores' bedroom.

Neighbors took Harry Moore to the closest hospital that would treat African-Americans, 30 miles away. By the time they arrived, he was dead. Nine days after the bombing, Harriette Moore died of her injuries.

The FBI was brought into the investigation. A member of the Ku Klux Klan in nearby Orlando committed suicide one day after he was questioned, but no one was charged with the killings.

As a gesture of family strength, Evangeline and her sister, Annie, agreed that they would never betray any outward sign of grief, and they rarely spoke of their parents' deaths. Annie Moore died in 1972.

Only since the 1990s did Evangeline Moore take a public role in preserving the memory of her family's contributions to the civil rights movement.

Juanita Evangeline Moore was born Sept. 3, 1930, in Mims. She came to Washington after graduating in 1951 from Bethune-Cookman University in Florida.

After working at the Labor Department, Moore became an administrator at the State Department. She retired in 1995 from what's now the Epilepsy Foundation of the Chesapeake Region.


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