On November 2, 1920, a settlement in Florida was the stage of a race riot that saw almost 60 Black citizens killed. The Ocoee Massacre would result in significant population change that would remain in the 1980s.
Election Day 1920
The cause of the Ocoee Massacre was the outcome of the presidential election that year. This was a year that Black Southerners showed for voter registration en masse. The drive was organized by Republican judge John Moses Cheney, who was making a bid for state Senate. Assisting him was two Black landowners–July Perry and Mose Norman.
With the Ku Klux Klan in effect throughout the southern U.S. at the time, this made for a powder keg. The Klan would put on intimidation displays to scare the Black vote into not showing up at the booth and also threatened supports and Cheney himself. When election day was finally upon Ocoee, Black voters faced numerous roadblocks. One of the organizers Mose Norman told Judge Cheney about the resistance at the polls and was told to take note of who was denied and who was intimidating Black voters.
Norman arrived at the polls with his shotgun but ended up being chased away with his gun. With this, White citizens against Black people voting began to cause a stir. When it appeared that things would escalate to violence, the Black citizens who didn’t get to vote decided to avoid throwing fuel on the fire. As it would turn out, it was too late and a lynch mob was formed to hunt down Mose Norman.
The Ocoee Massacre
After converging on Norman’s home, they would head to the residence of July Perry–the other Black organizer. Depending on the account from witnesses and members of the lynch mob there was a number of armed Black people along with Perry defending the house. Author Zora Neale Hurston stated Perry was the sole defender. As mob members attempted to breach the house from the back door, Perry would shoot and kill them. By the time of the retreat, two would be dead and one injured.
While the lynch mob gathered extra men, an injured Perry would attempt to escape along with his wife but was arrested. He received treated for his arm injury and sent to jail to wait out the riot. As is the case with angry mobs, they were to kidnap July Perry during transport and hang him. Mose Norman managed to escape and would live in New York into the late 1940s.
Eventually, more men came in to join the lynch mob and attacked the remaining Black populace. Homes, the schoolhouse, and church in northern Ocoee were set ablaze. Tens of Blacks were killed while others either escaped. Those who attempted to defend themselves with gunfire were among the dead while a few managed to escape as well.
By daybreak, the town’s lynch mob had either killed stragglers and those who were holding out for help. In all roughly 500 Black citizens were run out of Ocoee. July Perry’s family were relocated to Tampa and pictures of his body post-lynching were sold locally. In some press outlets, Blacks—particularly Mose Norman—were painted as the problem.
Today Ocoee is called “The Center of Good Living” with an estimated population of 45,000. In the 2000 census, the population was just shy of 35,600 with a White population around 81-percent and a Black population under 7-percent.