Florida Community Marks 100th Anniversary Of Ocoee Massacre In Which White Mob Killed And Terrorized Black Voters
The Ocoee massacre is the largest incident of voting day violence in American history.
November 02, 2020 at 2:24 pm
On the day before the 2020 presidential election, Florida is commemorating the 100-year anniversary of a massacre which terrorized Black residents after a Black man tried to vote.
Julius "July" Perry was one of the many Black residents who was targeted during a Nov. 2, 1920 attack in Ocoee, Florida when an armed, white mob captured him and lynched him because his friend tried to vote, CBS Miami reported. Perry would assist with voter registration for Black residents.
“To know that a loved one was lynched, for no reason, senseless, that is not something that you talk about day to day,” Sha’ron Cooley-McWhite, a descendant of Perry, told CBS Miami.
According to the Zinn Education Project, at least 50 Black residents were killed during the massacre. Twenty-five Black homes, two churches and a fraternal lodge were all burned down in the massacre reports The Orlando Sentinel, who says the gruesome killings were committed with the intention of punishing terrifying Black voters. The attack is the largest incident of voting day violence in American history, according to the Orange County Regional History Center.
The Ku Klux Klan also sent threatening letters to white people who tried to help Black voters.
“You had the choice of burning in your home or going out and being shot or possibly worse,” Schwartz told CBS Miami.
“Up until about 1976 there’s no known Black resident, a permanent resident, of Ocoee for half of a century,” Schwartz added.
The land stolen from the Black families who fled their homes is now estimated to be worth $9 million.
A Florida highway is now named in honor of Perry, who is remembered as a well-respect leader of the community and deacon. According to an essay titled, "Ocoee On Fire: The 1920 Election Day Massacre," Perry encouraged young Black people to be educated and stand up for their rights.
Florida has also implemented a bill which requires schools to teach about the Ocoee massacre.
“We’ve suffered in silence for a very long time. This has been a hurtful part of our past,” Cooley-McWhite said at a symposium hosted by the city’s human relations diversity board on Sunday, according to WMFE.
But much remains unknown about the massacre according to the Orlando Sentinel.
"It’s white erasure,” Swartz said of historical records of the mass killing. “They just wanted it to go away like it never happened.”
Commissioner Larry Brinson Sr. said the city has made racial progress, but there is still work to do.
“And yet even on this day, this very day we stand before you, which is election time, we are still engaged in discourse concerning the disenfranchisement of African American voters in America,” Brinson said.
Commissioner George Oliver III, Ocoee’s first Black city commissioner, said discussions about the massacre will help the community move forward. The commissioner added that he was disappointed by a booklet produced for the week’s events, which didn't do enough to highlight the city's progress towards a more inclusive community.
“We have so many reasons to celebrate. Unfortunately you cannot read about those things in this booklet which only presents a very narrow view of how we are moving forward," he said. "I would like that view to be expanded even more.”
Voter suppression is still a concern today. In Texas, Republican lawmakers passed a law last year to ban temporary or mobile early voting sites, which are common on college campuses, USA TODAY reported. Texas Democrats then filed a lawsuit to overturn the law, striving to protect young people’s right to vote. Social justice advocates in New York are also fighting to protect students' rights to vote as lawmakers create more hurdles.