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Movie crew films at historic courthouse

THE GROVELAND FOUR TRIAL SCENE — Actors playing the roles of three members of the Groveland Four, along with attorney Thurgood Marshall and another attorney, sit at the defense table, waiting to rehearse a scene depicting part of the 1949 trial. 

THE GROVELAND FOUR TRIAL SCENE — Actors playing the roles of three members of the Groveland Four, along with attorney Thurgood Marshall and another attorney, sit at the defense table, waiting to rehearse a scene depicting part of the 1949 trial. 


It’s a Friday afternoon in the Volusia County Historic Courthouse. Five black men stand at the defense table and three white men at the prosecutors’. At the witness stand, a very distraught young white woman stands looking over her shoulder toward the judge and the courtroom stenographer.

Everybody sits down except the white attorney.

“Thank you, your honor,” he says, then pauses. He tries again, “Thank you, your honor,” this time with less inflection. “This case is about brutality, violence and rape.”

It’s the first day of dress rehearsal in the production of the historical feature film Harry T. Moore, named for the African-American civil-rights activist murdered in 1951, along with his wife, Harriette, when a bomb exploded under their home in Mims.

The crew is filming in the historic courthouse in Downtown DeLand because the restored courtroom is historically correct. It’s one of the few that still looks the way courtrooms did almost 70 years ago.

Sitting in the front row of the gallery is Dr. Florence Alexander, the film’s executive producer and scriptwriter, and owner of Ebon Productions, the studio funding the project.

Alexander’s mission is to tell the story of a lesser-known civil-rights hero. Harry T. Moore’s work as an activist predated that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Malcolm X, but because Moore died years before the movement reached its peak, he wasn’t nearly as famous.

Alexander will speak about the project and her business at a Deltona luncheon Saturday, Dec. 16, hosted by the West Volusia Branch of the NAACP. 

“Because nobody knows him, we are doing this movie so the world will know Harry T. Moore,” Alexander said. 

Several years ago, she promised Moore’s now-deceased daughter Evangeline Moore in an interview that she would finish the movie. 

“That’s what has motivated me to be here today,” Alexander said.

She watches as the actor works his way through his lines, and as director Benji Malak interrupts to say that the attorney would have spoken with a Southern accent — “not so much South Carolina or North Carolina, a little more southern Georgia,” Malak said.

“Think Matthew McConaughey,” someone else in the gallery adds. Everyone laughs.

Then the boom operator moves the boom microphone back in place, and the scene is started again.

My brief interview of Alexander in the courtroom gallery was interrupted several times (as she warned that it would be) when some matter called for her attention: an extra needing to be assigned a role, an actor wearing the wrong type of shirt, or “Should we take that wreath down?”

For Alexander, seeing it all come together is a culmination of years of work. 

“Aren’t they marvelous,” she muses, as the actors try on their 1950s-era costumes.

Alexander first learned about Harry Moore about six years ago, when a friend suggested she visit the Harry and Harriette Moore Memorial Museum.

After visiting the museum, she became fascinated with the lives of the Moores, somewhat reminiscent of her own experience as an African-American woman trying to impact society.

She devoted weeks to studying the museum archives. It led her to write Before Selma, a book about the activism of Harry and Harriette Moore more than a decade before the civil-rights movement took off in Selma, Alabama.

Alexander has an impressive repertoire of accomplishments as a businesswoman and is the winner of numerous philanthropic awards, including the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her business, Ebon Research Systems, made millions. She used some of the money to co-found Ebon International Preparatory Academy, a short-lived boarding school for African-Americans that closed due to under-enrollment, and now Ebon Productions, which has owned several TV shows on Bright House Networks.

— Tom Stevens,

A lesser-known civil-rights hero

Legal advocate, NAACP member and grade-school teacher Harry T. Moore lived most of his life in Central Florida.

His legal activism made it easier for blacks to register to vote, led to investigations of lynchings, raised teachers’ salaries, and brought NAACP chapters to Florida.

He was famous for working with Thurgood Marshall (who later joined the U.S. Supreme Court) to overturn the wrongful convictions of the Groveland Four.

Moore and his wife, Harriette Moore, were killed on Christmas Day 1951 at their home in Mims, just weeks after Harry T. Moore had called for the indictment of the sheriff who killed one of the Groveland Four.

The West Volusia NAACP and NAACP Youth Council will host the Harry T. and Harriette Moore Memorial Luncheon, featuring Dr. Florence Alexander as guest speaker, at noon Saturday, Dec. 16, at New Hope Baptist Church in Deltona.

Tickets cost $10 per person and must be purchased in advance. 

For more information, contact Mike Williams at 386-804-6136.

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