The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Colorado Springs explosion recalls violence against NAACP

Inside a barber shop in Colorado Springs on Tuesday morning, a beautician had a correctional officer in his barber’s chair. Next door, volunteers were working at a local NAACP chapter. And outside, a homemade explosive device with a gas can strategically placed beside it detonated against their building.

A man inside said the explosion sounded like a “gunshot blast.” It rocked the walls. And it charred the building’s exterior, though there were no injuries and only minor damage. The gas can never ignited, investigators said.

It was still unclear whether America’s oldest civil rights organization was the target, but the FBI’s terrorism task force is looking into it. Most of the barber shop’s clientele are black as well, the Associated Press reported.

The FBI is searching for a suspect described as a balding white man in his 40s. He may have been driving a dirty pickup that could have a missing or covered license plate.

NAACP chapter president Henry Allen Jr. told the Colorado Springs Gazette he rushed to the site Tuesday afternoon to see whether any threats were called in prior to the explosion. He said he was hesitant to label the bombing a hate crime without more information, but said the organization “will not be deterred.”

Indeed, the NAACP has stood up against decades of violence against its members since its inception in 1909, in particular from the Ku Klux Klan.

In the 1910s and 192os, racial violence forced many NAACP branches in Texas to close. The organization urged the government to create laws to combat KKK attacks with little success. It went up against the state of Alabama to protect its members’ privacy.

But perhaps the greatest wrong came Christmas night in 1951, when Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette, were murdered.

Moore was founder of the NAACP’s Florida State Conference. He fought for equal salaries and fought against segregation in schools. He went up against lynchings and police brutality. Likely as a result, he and his wife, who were both schoolteachers, were fired and blacklisted.

Dec. 25, 1951, a bomb hidden beneath the floor under the Moores’ bed exploded while they were asleep. Their bed broke apart, the beams in their bedroom ceiling collapsed and they were rushed to the hospital. Harry died on the way. Harriette died nine days later. The bombing rocked the nation.

Two days after the bombing, their daughter Juanita Evangeline Moore was returning home for the holidays from Washington, D.C.

“When I got off the train … I knew something was very, very wrong,” she told Florida Today last month. “I had not turned on radio or television, so I didn’t know a thing about it until I got off the train. I noticed that my mother and father were not in front of all my relatives to greet me and they were always there.”

She heard the news from her Uncle George, who was on leave from Korea.

“We got into his car and got settled, and the first thing I asked was ‘Well, where’s Mom and Dad?’ No one said anything for a while, it was complete silence,” she told the newspaper. “Finally, Uncle George turned around and he said ‘Well, Van, I guess I’m the one who has to tell you. Your house was bombed Christmas night. Your dad is dead and your mother is in the hospital.’ That’s the way I found out.

“I’ve never gotten over it. It was unbelievable.”

The next year, the FBI launched an intense investigation, focusing its attention on three KKK members. One committed suicide the day after questioning, according to the organization. Four deceased Klansmen were ultimately suspected in the killings, but the case was never solved. It is now closed.

More than a decade after the Moores’ deaths, activist Medgar Evers became another martyr in the movement.

After being rejected from the then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School — part of the touchstone U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education — he became the NAACP’s first field officer in Mississippi.

In the weeks leading up to his murder, Evers was targeted with a molotov cocktail thrown into the carport at his house. Days before his death, he was almost run over by a car. Then on June 12, 1963, as he was stepping out of his car carrying a pile of NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,” he was shot in the back. He died at the hospital.

It’s still unclear whether Tuesday’s explosion was part of this pattern of violence. But the NAACP said in a statement that it looks forward to the local and federal investigation into the crime.