Will There Be Reparations For Ocoee, Florida?

Image: Pixabay

In 1920, Ocoee, FL was a sleepy town, more like a village with a population of just over a thousand people, half of whom were black. Ocoee is just outside of Orlando, FL; placed in the same county. This was long before Disney World when orange groves were the central feature of the area.

1920 was a Presidential election year. Warren G. Harding the Republican was running against Democrat James M. Cox. It was the first election since the end of World War One and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment; giving women the right to vote.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Black Americans had the right to vote since the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in 1868 and 1870. During Reconstruction that led to the election of black representatives to Congress and state legislatures throughout the South and even statewide office in Mississippi. In 1877, the Party of Lincoln (Republicans) turned their back on the South in trade for winning a contested 1876 Presidential Election. Republicans got a President, Democrats got removal of Federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. As icing on the cake, President Rutherford B. Hayes implemented Posse Comitatus, ensuring Federal Troops would never return to the South to protect one set of Americans from another.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Although blacks had been entitled to vote for half a century according to the Constitution. Jim Crow and the KKK had other ideas. Attempts to vote often led to lynchings and threats of harm. The people who should have offered protection, local law enforcement, were often part of the problem. Using their guns and badges to block the polling places. In 1920 there was an organized effort statewide in Florida to prevent blacks from voting. There were incidents in Jacksonville and Miami. None worse than what occurred in Ocoee, FL. Site of the “single bloodiest day in modern U.S. political history.”

There was a semi-organized effort to get blacks to vote in Florida. Two Ocoee men, July Perry, and Mose Norman, with guidance from a white Orlando judge; attempted to vote that day. It was alleged one of the men had a shotgun. When white vigilantes, led by a former Orlando police chief came to the home of July Perry. Two white men were killed by those inside trying to protect themselves. The call went out to the surrounding communities of Orlando, Apopka, and Winter Garden. They took July Perry to an Orlando jail, then the next day a mob took him from the jail and lynched him. The white mob shot and killed black people indiscriminately. They burned two black churches, a lodge meeting hall and 25 homes of black people. The Orlando newspaper reported on the “Ocoee Race Riot, Two Whites Killed.” The number of black people killed is unknown, estimates range from 35–100. All the black residents that weren’t initially killed were driven away. Ocoee remained an all-white town for 41 years.

“At the time that I visited Ocoee, the last colored family of Ocoee was leaving with their goods piled high on a motor truck with six colored children on top. White children stood around and jeered the Negroes who were leaving, threatening them with burning if they did not hurry up and get away. These children thought it a huge joke that some Negroes had been burned alive.”

Walter White — NAACP

In 1994, consideration was given to reparations for Ocoee victims. Citizens of Rosewood had been given a $2 million settlement after their town was burned out by whites in 1923, after Ocoee. In fighting the efforts to compensate Ocoee victims, lawyers claimed the state had no responsibility for Ocoee. They had “no way of knowing in advance” and were not liable. Because some of the landowners had received compensation, (some less than $1 per acre). They had already been reimbursed. The effort to compensate victims then failed miserably.

State Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) is planning to introduce legislation for reparations to descendants of the Ocoee Massacre. He is proposing a $10 million settlement to direct descendants that step forward. He thinks the State which recently apologized for the Groveland Four who were innocently jailed or murdered (in one case both) in another Central Florida town for allegedly raping a white woman in 1949. This later proved to be false. Bracy believes that the state which voted for Trump in 2016 might have a change of heart. What do you think?

The Ocoee Massacre: Where’s The Apology For That?


“At the time that I visited Ocoee, the last colored family of Ocoee was leaving with their goods piled high on a motor truck with six colored children on top. White children stood around and jeered the Negroes who were leaving, threatening them with burning if they did not hurry up and get away. These children thought it a huge joke that some Negroes had been burned alive.”

Walter White — NAACP

1920 was a Presidential Election year. It was historic in that it was the year women were first given the right to vote. History remembers well the women associated with the Suffrage Movement that fought for that right for several decades. Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and occasionally Ida B. Wells are cited for their efforts.

Although black males had been granted the right to vote in 1870 through the 15th Amendment. Actual voting, after Federal troops were removed from the South after the Compromise of 1877 was more than problematic. In 1920, Democrats throughout the State of Florida were determined that black men and women would not vote. History doesn’t tell that story so well.

Ocoee, FL is a small community within Orange County, FL which includes Orlando. On November 2, 1920, white citizens from Ocoee, Orlando, and nearby Winter Garden, shot and killed an unknown number of black citizens after two men; Mose Norman and July Perry tried to vote. In what the Orlando Sentinel called, “The Ocoee Race Riot,” they treated it as if it were a black uprising. The headline the next day included, “RACE TROUBLE AT OCOEE CLAIMS 2 WHITE VICTIMS,” The number of black people murdered has never been verified. Estimates range from 37–500. Everyone not killed was burned out and forced to leave. The town remained all-white for the next 40 years. July Perry was initially arrested and taken to an Orlando jail. He was then taken from that jail by a mob, shot multiple times and then strung up and left hanging from an Orlando light post. According to the Chicago Defender, a sign was left nearby saying, “This Is What We Do To Niggers That Vote.”

Most Orlando residents, even most Ocoee residents are unfamiliar with this history. Every ten years or so, the Orlando Sentinel runs a story covering the incident. On Sunday, January 13, 2019, they ran a front-page article, “It’s now our turn to apologize.” It came after the new Governor “pardoned” the Groveland Four, victims of a different event twenty miles away when four young black men were falsely accused of raping a white girl. One was killed during his capture. Two were shot by the local Sheriff while he transported them from the State Prison to testify in a hearing. He claimed they were trying to escape. Evidence that proved he actually murdered one and wounded the other was kept hidden by the FBI.

The Sentinel apologized for their role including misleading coverage and looking the other way which allowed that Sheriff to continue serving 21 years after murdering one of the Groveland Four and seriously wounding another. There has been no apology for their coverage of what they have referred to as the Ocoee Race Riot. They didn’t cover the conspiracy to keep blacks from voting although many local leaders made public statements and issued warnings to that effect. Since the Sentinel elected to apologize for its Groveland coverage, they might consider looking closer to home and review their coverage in their home county as well?

%d bloggers like this: