Ocoee Massacre Marker
In the midst of political transformation and a power struggle throughout the south, African Americans were registering to vote, threatening the center of political power in the Jim Crow south. In Ocoee, when prominent figures in the African American community attempted to vote in the Election of 1920, they were met with strong opposition from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), and because African Americans attempted to vote, two members were lynched and their churches and homes were burned down in what was an example of common behavior and practice throughout the south.
Backstory and Context
In 1920, two African American men attempted to vote in the presidential election in the city of Ocoee, Florida and encouraged other members of the local black community to do the same. This outraged the white population in the city and potentially threatening the balance of political power in the area. A massacre occurred on Election Day, where World War I veterans and KKK members from around Orange County, Florida burned at least 24 black homes and community sites. The city’s African American population went from around 500 to zero and for the next 40 years Ocoee was a sundown town, or a town with an exclusively white population. In the aftermath, as revealed in UCF's Riches Documentary Podcast, the cities racial history continued to instill fear in black population from the surrounding area.
In the early 1900's, Orange County much like the rest of the south were dominated by the Southern Democrats in the post-reconstruction era. In the weeks leading up to the Election of 1920, Republican Senate candidate John Moses Cheney organized a voter registration drive targeting disenfranchised African American voters. In Ocoee, African American landowners Mose Norman and July Perry organized a local registration drive and offered to pay the poll tax for those who could not afford it. A poll tax was a requirement that an individual pay a fee to vote, which along with literacy tests, were designed to prevent African Americans and poor whites from voting. Poll taxes were made unconstitutional in federal elections through the ratification of the 24th Amendment. The practice of voter registration drives was widespread throughout the south prior to the election and many white people saw the enfranchisement of African Americans to be the end of Jim Crow and the individuals trying to exercise their right to vote were met with strong opposition.
The enfranchisement of African Americans threatened the one-party authoritarian control throughout the south and in response the newly re-emerging KKK warned African Americans attempting to vote stating “not a single Negro would be permitted to vote.” When election day came around African Americans faced resistance from poll workers and were told they had to prove their registration by seeing a notary, who was usually out of town. Moses Norman told the Senate candidate of the push back and was instructed to collect names of individuals who were illegally prevented from voting and by whom were they preventing. Norman then returned to the polling place with a shotgun and while the details of the incident are unknown, we do know that he was driven out of the polling place with his own gun.
The white mob followed Norman to the house of July Perry, where they knew he fled to and reached the door asking for a surrender, where they were shot upon in self-defense. After two World War I veterans were killed the white mob called for reinforcements from Orlando, Apopka, and the rest of Orange County. In the waiting period an injured Perry attempted to flee to a cane patch where he was found the next morning and arrested. He was treated at the hospital before being transferred to jail. When being transferred, he was taken by the mob and lynched. Norman was never found.
Outside of the lives of Perry and Norman, the reinforcements to the white mob took the conflict to the rest of the African American community where they burned rows of Black houses, forcing the occupants to flee where they were shot. At the end of the night at least 20 buildings had been burned down including all the Black Churches and schoolhouses and an unknown number of people were killed although according to a NAACP study there are estimates with 30 on the low end with other experts believing the death toll went up to 50+.
Firpo, Julio R.. “RICHES Podcast Documentaries, Episode 2: The Legacy of the Ocoee Riot.” RICHES of Central Floridaaccessed April 24, 2020, https://richesmi.cah.ucf.edu/omeka/items/show/2454.
This podcast provided some insight into the aftermath of the riots as told by lifelong residents of Central Florida.
Hudak, S. (2018, November 19). Ocoee, where massacre occurred in 1920, aims to shed past reputation as 'sundown' town. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/orange-county/os-ne-ocoee-massacre-proclamation-20181115-story.html
This source, which is a newspaper article about the contemporary implications of the Ocoee Massacre, allows for a better understand the Ocoee government throughout the years in regards to the Ocoee Massacre, as it took Ocoee until 2018 to formerly recognize the town, and in the last few weeks a Senate bill in the Florida Senate was approved out of committee to provide potential reparations or scholarships to the decedents of the victims, as well as increased education on the issue
Maraniss, A. (2016, November 4). Legacy of bloody election day lingers in Florida town. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://theundefeated.com/features/legacy-of-bloody-election-day-lingers-in-ocoee-florida/
This source provided images that were used in my work as well as providing a contemporary perspective and analysis on the events of the Ocoee Massacre.
Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board. (2020, February 26). If not reparations, at least offer scholarships and education to descendants of 1920 Ocoee massacre: Editorial. Retrieved March 30, 2020, from https://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/editorials/os-op-ocoee-riot-florida-reparations-scholarship-bill 20200225-nvhcn2hbaza5vfjdezm4kyxrjq-story.html
This source provided information on solutions to the complicated issues that resulted from Ocoee’s history of racial violence. Since the pervious Orlando Sentinel article previously cited, the city decided against paid reparations and instead to focus on education.
Nov. 2, 1920: The Ocoee Massacre. (2019, April 15). Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/ocoee-massacre/
This source, from the Zinn Educational Project, a nonprofit whose goal is to teach students history beyond the names and dates typically found in textbooks by going in depth on events throughout American History. This source provided the underlying information needed to thoroughly understand the Ocoee Massacre,
including some backstory on the individuals involved and the underlying causes of the event. It includes links to outside information on the massacre as well, including a documentary that is available to rent.
Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2020, from http://www.thehistorycenter.org/exhibition/the-ocoee-massacre/
This source supplied images of July Perry that is used in the images I uploaded. The source also provided background information on July Perry and background on the order of events from November 2, 1920.
The Weekly Challenger
The History Center of Orange County