Those who are living in the shadow of the Moore Complex
By Alondra McIntosh and Aidari Riera Herrera
Turning your car down Freedom Avenue, you get a feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize the significance of what’s at the end of the street.
At first glance, it seems like a typical Central Florida neighborhood: stucco homes symmetrically lined an acre apart with well-manicured lawns of deep-green St. Augustine grass. It’s all so peaceful and serene. Until you consider the horrific violence that happened at the end of the street 70 years ago when a Black family, sleeping peacefully on a Christmas night, were blown up by White terrorists wielding dynamite.
Today, at the end of Freedom Avenue stands the Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Museum on the site where their home was reduced to a pile of splinters and they lost their lives for daring to try to register Black people to vote and for speaking out against prejudice and injustice.
The neighbors who live on the street bathed in sunshine that leads to the park and museum are very aware that they live in the shadow of a dark history.
“This is just a tremendous honor to know that we’re on a street that memorializes such civil rights leaders in Florida,” said Susan Lewis, a homeowner on Freedom Avenue.
People proudly inhabit those beautiful houses and call them home. The neighbors wave to one another and trade smiles as cars pass by.
Birds chirp loudly in the mornings while lawns are mowed to perfection daily. The grass grows fresh, and not one home lacks in maintenance or care.
Before the neighborhood came to be, the area was farmland for cattle and home to rows of orange groves. It was once home to the Moore’s family.
Peace and tranquility must have been the goal. Those who live in the shadows of the Moore complex make a place of tragedy their warm welcoming home.
“It’s an honor to be on the same street that the Moore center is on,” said neighbor Cathy Carr. “This is our piece of history here in Mims.”
When Carr has a guest over, she brings them down to walk around the center. It has become part of her life to educate friends and family about the Moores. Carr teaches American history to fifth graders at a local elementary school.
“I would love for my fifth graders to be able to come to the center when we get to the section of our history on civil rights,” Carr said.
Carr hopes to see more events, schools, outreach and children at the center. She enjoys the educational services and the artwork the center offers. The Moore center has been a part of her children’s life as well; she encourages them to ask questions and seek out answers that will lead to change.
Neighbors interviewed said they enjoy the opportunities and education opened up for them by the center. In a bit of historical irony that would no doubt please the Moores, the neighbors also vote at the center during elections.
Claudia Felten used to live close to the Moore center in 2017 on Old Dixie Highway, but has since moved away. She remembers visiting the center and recalls spending a lot of time at the park with her brother.
“We used to have little retreats and walk around the park,’’ Felten said. “It always felt so nice and happy even though something so sad happened there.”
Felten’s neighbor at the time was a much older woman who lived in the area when the Moores did. She would tell Felten stories about the family and bring the history to life for her.
Joan Hines is the only African American homeowner on Freedom Avenue and has been living on the road before the memorial center was built. Hines and her husband John bought the property in 1998 and finished building their home in 2003.
“The contractor asked if we wanted our house to face Parker Street with a Parker address or Freedom, with the Freedom address,” she said. “And of course, I chose Freedom.”
Yet, Hines said she was not initially aware of the historical significance of the area when her home was being built.
“I didn’t know anything about the Moores at the time when I moved in,” Hines said.
Her neighbor across the street introduced her to their story and told her he was related to the Moores. Hines then began to research the history behind the center. The man eventually moved away and now the Hines home is the only African American home on Freedom Avenue.
Once they began to build the center, Hines would walk down and look around the construction site from time to time. When they completed the memorial in 2004, she was intrigued as she walked through the history of the Moore’s replicated home for the first time.
When her husband passed away, Hines purchased a brick by the memorial pool located beside the Moore house, in honor of her husband.