The Graveyard Caretakers
By Johan Blanco and Tyler Caron
After their long fight against old Dixie’s racist ways, civil rights martyrs Harry and Harriette Moore’s final resting place is off Old Dixie Road in Mims.
The Moores were killed when a bomb placed under their home by Ku Klux Klan members went off on Christmas night 1951. The explosion killed Harry Moore. His wife, Harriette, died nine days later. They were buried on the “colored side’’ of LaGrange Cemetery in Mims.
Today, Dennis Young, a caretaker for Lewis-Ray Mortuary, makes sure their gravesite is maintained with dignity and respect.
“Because with the Moores being out there, the way their area looks, if the whole cemetery is not looking good, then it makes their area not good either,’’ Young said. “It's almost like it's a sacred area in a sense.’’
Young has been a member of the Mims community since 1971 and has attended memorial services for the Moores in the past. He said it brings him many different emotions.
“You have sadness, you have sympathy, but at the same time, it should give you a drive to want to seek out what is right,’’ Young said. “Do what is right, say what is right, speak up for what is right, rather than sit back and not say anything.’’
Young takes responsibility for keeping the Moores’ gravesite looking nice to properly honor their sacrifice, even though the mortuary relies on donations to keep up the cemetery.
The LaGrange Cemetery was established in 1869 and is the oldest cemetery on Florida’s lower east coast.
Located three miles north of Titusville in Mims, the land was donated by Tom Johnson Cockshutt, who intended the site to be the eternal home of the first pioneers who settled in Mims and their descendants.
In the early 1900s, a two-acre parcel of the land was donated to Mims’ Black community. The cemetery reflects the segregation of the time – with Blacks buried on one side and Whites on the other. The Moores’ gravesite is the closest site on the African American side.
The LaGrange Cemetery has no office, no manager, no undertaker and no official caretaker of the grounds. So, who cares for the graves and tombstones?
Sonya Mallard, the cultural coordinator for the Harry T. & Harriette V. Memorial Park & Museum, says volunteers make sure the gravesite is maintained.
“How we take care of their graves, we volunteer people on Facebook from post to post. So, everybody takes care of the cemetery,’’ Mallard said.
It is up to the loved ones of those who buried there to keep each grave looking presentable for visitors. In the Moores' case, their daughter Evangeline, who took care of their grave, now lies beside her mother and father after her death in 2015.
There are no known relatives of the Moores in the Mims area, so it is up to volunteers who were impacted by their death to take care of their graves.
Every year in December, there is an annual ceremony for Harry and Harriette at the cemetery. Brevard County community residents gather to honor them with prayers, songs and speeches about how their impact still affects the community today.
Mallard spoke about who runs the service and plans for this year.
“The North Brevard NAACP, they put on that service,’’ Mallard said. “But because of COVID this year, we will not be having the service this year.’’
LaGrange Community Cemetery and Church were added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on Dec. 7, 1995. Harry and Harriette Moore are two of the three famous memorials found in LaGrange. The other renowned memorial at the cemetery is Henry Theodore Titus, the founder of Titusville.
In addition to volunteers, Lewis-Ray Mortuary in Titusville has also taken responsibility for upkeep of the Moores’ gravesite. The mortuary welcomes donations to maintain the cemetery.