In 1949, four young Black men are accused of raping a white girl in Lake County near Orlando — at that time a Klan stronghold. Later evidence indicates that the 17 year old girl had been beaten by her husband, and that they concocted a phony rape story to conceal the beating from her parents who had threatened to shoot him if he brutalized her again.
Charles Greenlee (age 16), and war veterans Sam Shepherd and Walter Irvin, are arrested for the supposed rape. The fourth man, Ernest Thomas manages to flee, but is gunned down by a Sheriff's posse a few days later. A mob of more than 500 white men assembles to lynch the remaining three. When they can't locate the prisoners, they form a caravan of 200 cars and descend on the Black neighborhood of Groveland where the the families of the accused men live. They shoot into homes and set some on fire. The Florida Governor has to send in the National Guard to restore order.
Willis McCall, the Sheriff of Lake County, is notorious for his brutality against Blacks. Year-after-year he is relected with the support of the citrus growers who he supplies with cheap, chain-gang prison labor at harvest time by arresting Blacks on trumped up charges for minor crimes. He also chases any and all union organizer out of the county.
The Moores discover that while in McCall's custody the three Groveland defendants were brutally beaten and made to stand on broken glass with their hands roped to a pipe over their heads. Despite this torture, they refused to confess to a crime they did not commit. Unable to force a confession, McCall's deputies manufacture enough phony evidence to convince an all-white jury. Shepherd and Irvin are sentenced to death, 16-year old Greenlee is sentenced to prison.
Greenlee chooses not to appeal out of fear that a new trial would result in a death sentence. Franklin Williams, Shepherd and Irvin's NAACP attorney, appeals their conviction and it is overturned by the Supreme Court in 1951.
In November of 1951, Sheriff McCall removes the two men from prison. While driving them to Lake County for their new trial, he shoots them, killing Shepherd and severely wounding Irvin. He claims that the two handcuffed and manacled prisoners attacked him while trying to escape. When Irvin recovers enough to speak, he describes how McCall pulled his car off the road, dragged the two men out, and began firing. The Moores demand that McCall be suspended from office and indicted for murder. No charges are ever brought against McCall.
With the mob attack on Groveland, the original rape trial, the successful appeal, and the shootings fanning the flames of racism, Harry Moore is called "The most hated Black man in Florida." His mother, visiting for the holidays, voices concern for the Moore's safety. Harry tells her, "Every advancement comes by way of sacrifice. What I am doing is for the benefit of my race."
Late in the night on Christmas Eve, 1951, a bomb explodes under Harry and Harriette's bedroom. He dies on the way to the hospital, she dies of her injuries 9 days later. They are the first Freedom Movement martyrs of the post-WWII era. Though it is widely known that the Ku Klux Klan planted the bomb, no one is ever charged in their murder.