Civil Rights Couple Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore (Photos Courtesy of harryharriettemoore.org)

Florida HBCU Bethune-Cookman University will recognize four people who make a difference with the school’s highest designation, an honorary doctorate degree, during this year’s fall commencement on Dec. 12.

Most notable are the posthumously awarded degrees to Harry and Harriette Moore, two Florida civil rights leaders, whose work with the Progressive Voters’ League helped register more than 116,000 Black voters in a span of six years. Those voters represented 31 percent of all eligible Black voters in the state – 51 percent higher than any other southern state – and resulted in their dismissal from lucrative teaching posts.

Undeterred, the Moores became full-time, paid organizers for the Florida NAACP, doing extensive work with a high-profile 1949 rape case. Four Black men were accused of raping a White woman. Following widespread White mob violence and the attempted murder of two handcuffed suspects by a local sheriff, the Moores called for the immediate suspension and indictment of the officer.

Six weeks later, on Christmas Day 1951, a bomb was placed beneath the floor joists under the Moores’ bed, killing Harry instantly, and Harriette, nine days later. Despite an extensive investigation by the FBI and telegrams to then-President Harry Truman, the assassinations were never solved.

University President Edison O. Jackson told the AFRO that honoring the slain activists was a matter of continuing a tradition they set of doing the right thing. “Honoring the forgotten lives of Harry and Harriette Moore is monumental for Bethune-Cookman University. The Moores were instrumental in the social change and Civil Rights Movements here in Florida,” Jackson said. “Today, so much injustice is happening in our country and we must remind others that we have to stand up for what is right.”

Skip Pagan, the grandson of the Moores, will be in attendance to accept the degrees for his family. “The Moores gave voice to the disenfranchised and voiceless. In their lifetime, Harry and Harriette Moore mirrored the legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune – empowering others, while being completely selfless,” Jackson said. “We continue to embed that message into our students today – Enter to Learn. Depart to Serve.”

The Moores were both graduates of Bethune-Cookman and had two daughters, Annie and Juanita, who also received their degrees from the university. Their home is a Florida Heritage Landmark.

Robert “Bob” Billingslea, former vice president of Corporate Urban Affairs and Development for the Walt Disney Company, influential in social change and diversity for nearly five decades, and Terry Prather, a 30-year veteran in tourism and hospitality, the former president of SeaWorld Orlando and senior vice president of operations across the company’s 11 parks, will also be honored with doctorates.