Photo credits: Washington Area Spark
American history’s Ocoee Massacre occurred on November 2-3, 1920, in the town of Ocoee, Florida. It was the worst election-related massacre of the 1900s. In the ensuing violence, around 50 black people and two white people were slain.
Afterward, Ocoee’s whole black community was forced to evacuate the city. Ocoee, Florida, in Orange County, is approximately a dozen miles northwest of Orlando. It has been officially ruled by conservative Democrats since the end of Reconstruction. Conservative Democrats found joy in preventing blacks, who voted mainly for Republicans back then, from entering polling stations. A majority of black organizations in Florida began conducting voter registration efforts in 1920.
As a consequence of their efforts, a prosperous black farmer named Mose Norman, who was participating in the Orange County voter registration drive, decided to vote in the November 2 federal election. When he attempted to vote twice, he was turned away. When Norman was ordered to leave again for a second try, an angry white mob of roughly 100 men vowed to locate Norman and maim him. They rushed to the residence of yet another local black person, Julius “July” Perry. The assailants assumed Norman had taken refuge there. But Norman escaped and was never found. Perry maintained his home, killing two white men who tried to force their way in. The two men were named Elmer McDaniels and Leo Borgard. The mob solicited the help of the people of Orlando and neighboring Orange County.
They ultimately arrested and executed Perry before hanging his body on a telephone pole on the route in the middle of the Ocoee and Orlando borders to frighten other potential black voters. The attack on the Perry house wounded Estelle Perry, Perry’s wife, and the couple’s daughter. Law enforcement officers from the neighboring region accompanied them to Tampa. The focus then shifted to Ocoee’s African-American community. The angry white mob members grew even angrier. They burned down residential and commercial properties. They demanded that African-Americans leave Ocoee.
Faced with the potential of violence, the whole African American population of the municipality left. Several African Americans believe the violence was orchestrated in order for select whites to steal the real estate of the town’s wealthiest blacks. The NAACP sent its chief executive, Walter White, to investigate the shooting. White, who feigned to be of European descent during his visit, said that numerous neighborhood whites were “still thrilled with victory” when he arrived. Furthermore, he said that locals reported 56 black deaths, although his official report stated 30. The NAACP and additional civil rights organizations petitioned the US House Election Committee in 1921 to investigate the killings and voter intimidation in Florida. However, the committee did nothing about it.
On June 21, 2019, a commemorative memorial honoring July Perry and the other martyrs of the massacre was installed at Heritage Square on the exterior grounds of the Orange County Regional History Center.