“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?