December 25, 1951: It Was NOT a Holly Jolly Christmas That Year!

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A Brief History

On December 25, 1951, Civil Rights activists Harry T. Moore and Harriette V. S. Moore were killed by a bomb explosion at their home in Sanford, Florida.  Unfortunately, for many people, Christmas has not always been a time of happiness and celebration, but a time of death and destruction.  Today we examine several of the unhappy incidents that have happened on this otherwise jolly holiday.  Feel free to nominate other incidents that could be included on such a list, or to take exception with anything we have listed.  (The list is in no particular order and we are limiting ourselves to only going back to 1951.   The list does not include every single Christmas tragedy of the past 67 years!)  See our previous article, “Do More People Die on Christmas? (Yes!).”

Questions for Students (or others): Have you experienced tragedy on Christmas?  What Christmas tragedy do you think is the worst?  Do you believe there are any religious implications to tragedies that occur on Christmas?

Digging Deeper

1951, Harry and Harriet Moore murdered by bomb.

Harriette Vyda Simms Moore (June 19, 1902 – January 3, 1952), African-American teacher and civil rights worker

Only 46 and 49 years old respectively, the South Florida couple had been involved in establishing a branch of the NAACP in their hometown and were among the early Civil Rights activists fighting for the rights of African American citizens.  Their murderers went unpunished, as the 4 suspects, KKK members at the time of the murders, were already dead in 2005-2006 when modern forensic techniques were used to identify the perpetrators.  The Moores had investigated lynchings, voter suppression, and other forms of discrimination against African Americans.  There were the only married couple to be martyred to the Civil Rights cause at the same time.

2016, Alexandrov Ensemble plane crash.

Map of crash site released by the Russian Ministry of Defence

A Tupolev 154 jetliner crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 92 persons aboard.  The airliner was carrying a contingent (64 people) of the song, dance and musical orchestra group, The Alexandrov Ensemble, a Russian entertainment troupe that dated back to the Soviet period of Russian culture.  The plane, owned and operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense, was not believed to have suffered any terrorist type of sabotage or mechanical failure, but rather crashed because the over-tired pilot suffered somatogravic illusion, a type of disorientation caused by physical forces on the body’s balance system.  (Perhaps like vertigo?)  The choir members aboard the ill-fated plane were members of the official choir of the Russian Armed Forces.

2012, Kazakh Antonov An-72-100 plane crash.

The Kazakhstan Air Force Antonov An-72 involved in the accident

Another Christmas tragedy occurred when an Antonov An-72 operated by the Kazakhstan armed forces crashed at Shymkent, Kazakhstan while attempting to land, killing all 27 people aboard, including 7 crew members and 20 border guards.  Investigation determined the crash was caused by the pilot relying on a malfunctioning radio altimeter and ignoring the advice of the control tower air traffic controllers to use his barometric altimeter instead.  Apparently poor visibility prevented the pilot to have visual confirmation that his altitude was insufficient to properly land.

1989, Romanian First Couple Executed.

Original grave site of Nicolae Ceaușescu, Ghencea Civil Cemetery (Bucharest)

President of Romania Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife, Elena were tried and executed on the same day after revolutionaries had arrested them.  Nicolae was President of Romania from 1965 until his death, the last of the Communist leaders of that Soviet Bloc nation.  He was accused of running a brutal dictatorship and of killing and torturing all sorts political prisoners.  The 1989-1991 time frame was one marked by the fall of Communist governments all over Europe, though Romania was the only country to experience a violent overthrow of Communism.  The Ceaușescu couple were captured by Romanian military troops after the military defected from following the president and joined the revolutionaries.  The execution was performed by firing squad.

2003, UTAGE Flight 141 plane crash.

The aircraft involved in the crash while still operating as American Airlines

No shortage of Christmas plane crashes!  This time it was a Boeing 727 jetliner that crashed at the Cotonou Airport in Benin, a West African country.  All 144 people aboard the jet operated by Guinean regional airlines Union des Transports Aériens de Guinée on a flight to Libya were killed, with most of the passengers hailing from Lebanon.  Investigators found the cause of the crash to be related to the overloading of the jetliner and uneven center of gravity compounded by inept operators.  The short runway and high temperature of the location made a successful take-off run problematic with an overloaded airplane.

1976, EgyptAir Flight 864 plane crash.

A Boeing 707-320C of EgyptAir, similar to the accident aircraft

A flight from Rome, Italy to Tokyo, Japan was scheduled to make a stop in Bangkok, Thailand when the Boeing 707 jetliner crashed into an industrial area of Bangkok.  All 52 people aboard the plane were killed, and unfortunately another 19 people on the ground were also killed by the crash.  Thai investigators found the pilot to be at fault for the accident, claiming the pilot had failed to properly monitor landing vertical speed while the airline claimed the pilot had not received adequate weather information from the Bangkok control tower.

1968, Kilvenmani massacre.

Raised fist carried as part of the 2014 inauguration of the Keezhvenmani martyrs memorial

Not an airplane crash!  No, this time the tragedy involved landlord and perhaps employers in Kizhavenmani village, Tamil Nadu, India (Tamil Nadu is one of 29 states in India) attacking and killing about 44 people of the “untouchable” caste that had been striking.  The Dalit peasants (the victims), had been encouraged by communist sympathizers to strike for better wages and conditions, especially in light of recent massive improvements in Indian agricultural output.  The massacre resulted in may reforms in India, but the struggle of the “untouchables” continues to this day.  Many of the victims were children, which made the uproar over the killings that much more strident.  (By the way, why is the massacre called “Kilvenmani” when that is not the name of the village?  We do not know.)  Of course, there was no lack of trying to blame the communists for the incident.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Faith, Nicholas. Black Box: Inside the World’s Worst Air Crashes. Monday Books, 2012.

Forbes, Bruce. Christmas: A Candid History.  University of California Press, 2007.

Green, Ben. Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America’s First Civil Rights Martyr.  Florida Historical Society Press, 2017.

Smith, Trudy and M. Bruce Jones. “White Christmas Bloody Christmas Finally the True Story of the Lawson Family Murders of Christmas Day 1929.” DTS Group Inc, 2015.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by the State of Florida of the home of the Moores after the bombing on Christmas Day on 26 December 1951 from, is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.  The person who associated a work with this deed has dedicated the work to the public domain by waiving all of his or her rights to the work worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law. You can copy, modify, distribute and perform the work, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.