Anthony Colucci: Learning from Educator and Civil Rights Martyr, Harry T. Moore
by Anthony Colucci
The recent onslaught of teacher bashing is a relief to me. It validates my belief that proclaiming the importance of education and the value of educators has always been just a bunch of lip service. Turn on most cable "news" programs, read the bold but cowardly anonymous blog comments, or listen to your neighbors. You'll quickly realize that the niceties are gone, and the truth is no longer hiding. Too many Americans don't value education and think teachers are no more than lazy buffoons. I, for one, am over it! However, I fully understand that our current thrashing was caused by our very instinct to teach instead of to act.
We masterfully get the most troubled students to perform, so we are dumbfounded when we can't get adults to comprehend what we're saying. We must realize that many in America are no longer students; they gave up learning a long time ago. Take a look at Governor Walker who refuses to listen to an opposing viewpoint because it might cause him to change his mind. There is no convincing many Americans that we are grossly underpaid, standardized testing is destructive, poverty lies at the heart of the education "crisis," drastically slashing education funding is short-sighted thinking, and merit pay is an impending disaster. So what do we do?
I am taking a lesson from educator and perhaps the greatest unsung hero of the civil rights movement, Harry T. Moore. Even in Brevard County, Florida, the home of Moore, many residents know little about him. For the past several years, I have served as a member of the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Complex Education Committee. I had the privilege of learning about Moore's life from his now elderly daughter, a few of his students, and handful of dedicated individuals who fight to preserve his legacy. Over sixty years after his death, Moore continues to teach. I learned countless lessons about character. His drive, passion, unwavering commitment to a just cause, and courage is nothing less than awe-inspiring. In addition, Moore's work showed me the impact that an individual can have and what it takes to create change in America.
Moore was a man of action and organization, not of thundering speeches. Perhaps this is the reason why his enormous accomplishments get little attention. Nearly two decades before Dr. King was leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Moore was risking his life and limb fighting injustice. In 1934, Moore took the courageous step of forming the Brevard County Chapter of the NAACP. Later, he became the state secretary and worked to increase membership to over 10,000. In 1937, Moore was outraged by the inequality in teacher pay that he and fellow African Americans were forced to endure. Did Moore waste his time trying to change public opinion? Of course, he didn't. Moore filed a lawsuit to try to correct the inequality, which led to his wife and himself losing their teaching jobs. Moore realized that African Americans would not change their lot by trying to convince ardent racists that their positions were wrong. Instead, he acted. Moore organized the Progressive Voters' League. Moore's daughter, Evangeline, still speaks of how Moore and his family traversed the state in the family car in an effort to get African Americans registered to vote. Truly bold actions to take in a state abound with KKK members. By 1950, 31% of African Americans in Florida were registered; this was 51% higher than in any other southern state. Moore did not stop there. He investigated corruption, police brutality cases, and every time an African American was lynched. Moore and his wife paid the ultimate price for his actions when a bomb exploded under their home on Christmas night 1951, which also marked their wedding anniversary.
The Moore's murders have never been officially solved; however, a great deal of evidence points to KKK members. In 2006, there was a startling discovery 900 yards from his house. Moore's briefcase and all its contents were found in a neighbor's barn. Rather than shedding light on the investigation, its contents shed light on Moore's work. In the briefcase were countless letters written to politicians asking them to outline their position on civil rights. From their responses or lack of, Moore was able to guide African Americans in their voting. African Americans in Florida voted as a block, and politicians knew it.
Teachers, let's stop trying to convince the masses of what we hold to be true. Let's follow Moore's example of acting and organizing. Let the politicians see our strength at the Save Our Schools March in Washington D.C. this July and other events leading up to it. Through these means we can send those who belittle education a message. We will not vote republican or democrat. Educators will be at the polls next election voting for the candidate who holds education to be a sacred responsibility!!
Anthony S. Colucci, a National Board Certified Teacher, coordinates and teaches the gifted-student program at four elementary schools in Central Florida. He is the author of Copilots, Duties & Pina Coladas: How to Be a Great Teacher, and has earned numerous awards for his innovative and creative lessons.
What do you think of Anthony Colucci's advice? Should we focus more on getting organized?