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1920 Ocoee Riots/FEB 2019

Dean Johnson | Published on 2/13/2019

Take a Stand

In 1920, Julius “July” Perry was getting out the vote in Ocoee, and he paid for it with his life.

Perry was a casualty of a horrific race riot that besmirched the reputation of the West Orange city at least into the 1970s. After Mose Norman, a black man, tried to vote and was turned away twice, a white mob heard he’d gone to Perry’s home; Perry fired shots at the mob, killing two white men who were trying to break into his house. As a result, Perry was lynched, black homes were burned, other blacks were killed (the number is uncertain), and the remaining African-Americans moved away, not to return until the 1980 census.

The Election Day 1920 Massacre and its aftermath were the subject of the Feb. 13 LWVOC Hot Topics program, a part of Black History Month.

Judge Emerson Thompson Jr., moderator, told us there were 4,000 lynchings in the U.S. between 1877 and 1950. In a ranking of counties where lynchings took place, Orange County was sixth in the country. Black men were in more danger in Florida than in any other state, Judge Thompson said.

Other perspectives on the tragedy were provided by George Oliver III, Ocoee’s first African-American city commissioner; Sha’ron Cooley McWhite, a descendant of July Perry (1868-1920); and Francina Boykin, a member of the Democracy Forum, which produced a research project involving Perry and the riot.

Oliver, who grew up in Atlanta, said that when he and his wife were going to move to Ocoee, an uncle of his wife’s said he would not be visiting them there because of the 1920 stigma. Boykin, who grew up in Apopka, said that as a child, she was always warned against going anywhere near Ocoee.

Commissioner Oliver, who was elected last March, said there is still work to do In Ocoee and elsewhere in the country -- as far as voting procedures and voter suppression and leaders fighting to keep things the same, even in keeping the ideas of the Jim Crow era “that are still alive and well in boardrooms, the White House” and other venues.

Last November, the Ocoee City Commission passed a proclamation acknowledging the 1920 massacre. “Let it be known,” it states in part, “that Ocoee shall no longer be the sundown city but the sunrise city, with the bright light of harmony, justice and prosperity shining upon all our citizens” – sundown cities being places blacks were advised to avoid after dark due to the possibilities of white violence.

McWhite was present when the proclamation was presented and said that she votes because of her uncle and such other civil rights martyrs as Medgar Evers, Harry and Harriette Moore and Emmett Till. “We need to be part of change,” she said.

And, Oliver advised us, “Take a stand.”