The Other U.S. Race Massacres History Didn’t Tell You About: Part II Ocoee
The 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma “Black Wall Street” Massacre remains the most popular example of what White mob racism was and still is capable of, but it wasn’t the only massacre which took place in predominantly Black regions.
This is Part II of a three-part series which will be released every Tuesday until January 5th 2021.
Voter Suppression And The KKK Seeps Into Florida
A decade after the Atlanta Massacre of 1906, there were more events of voter suppression and carnage that decimated Black communities which were due to the KKK, segregationists, the southern Democratic party, and racist policies and practices.
The Atlanta story also covered Reconstruction and the revival of the KKK thanks to the efforts of Thomas Dixon Jr.
If the Atlanta [Georgia] Massacre was a movie; Ocoee, Florida could serve as something of a sequel to it.
Targets of The KKK
At the end of Reconstruction in the early 1920s, African-Americans across the south were increasingly registering to vote in record numbers.
But they were still threatened, intimidated, received false information about their registration status, and the KKK were more robust than ever.
However, a Republican Judge running for the United States Senate in Florida got involved to change this. John Moses Cheney aided the efforts to register African-Americans to vote since they supported Republicans post-Reconstruction.
Mose Norman and July Perry, two African-Americans who owned land and were well off also helped. They helped paid poll taxes to anyone who couldn’t afford it.
But the threats continued. Norman and Perry would become the top political enemies racists and the KKK sought to silence.
The Assault On Perry’s Home
On Election Day, November 2 1920, Black voters were either driven away from the polls or they were intimidated by groups of White men. Many didn’t object to the reasons given as to why they couldn’t vote in fear of retaliation.
Norman witnessed this and he himself was reportedly pushed away from the polls.
A frustrated Norman informed Judge Cheney what was occurring. Judge Cheney informed Norman that what the Whites were doing at the polls was illegal as it was their constitutional right to vote. He told Norman to write down the names of all the African-Americans who had been turned away and to write down the names of the White people who were turning them away as well.
For reasons still unknown, but was more than likely Norman being fearful for his safety, he brought a shotgun with him when he returned to the polls. It’s unclear if he misplaced his shotgun in the midst of an argument, or if he was convinced to turn it over since it was a polling station after all, but the Whites there used it against him prompting him to flee.
If this event did ever make it to the silver screen; it would be absolutely fair to categorize Sam Salisbury as the main antagonist. Salisbury, the former police chief of Orlando, bragged about intimidating African-Americans in the elections prior. He was called to lead KKK mob to locate and lynch Norman.
Norman was rumored to be at Perry’s home. About a group of about 100 men descended on Perry’s home later that day. After several men attempted to break in including Salisbury who was shot in the arm — the group called of the attack.
They sent for reinforcements from Winter Garden, Apopka, and Orlando and other surrounding areas in Orange County by calling by phone and sending cars.
During the couple of hours after waiting for reinforcements, Perry was eventually injured in the assault. He attempted to flee into a cane patch with the help of his wife.
Unfortunately for Perry, he was discovered at dawn by the KKK.
He was brutalized and killed after being taken from his jail cell. His body was left hanging in front of Cheney’s Orlando home.
Northern Ocoee Set Ablaze
The KKK, now with reinforcements, began to light fires, raid homes, and shoot any Black people attempting to flee.
Every African American church, lodge room, schoolhouse among other Black-owned houses were burned to the ground. Some weapons were found the next morning as some Black residents refused to leave and stood their ground.
Other Black residents were forced to flee into the swamp and surrounding areas such as Winter Garden and Apopka. According to an African-American woman by the name of Annie Hamiter, residents in southern Ocoee decided to sell and move out. Some, including Hamiter, suspected a plot to attack African-Americans. About 500 Black residents were driven out of Ocoee.
An estimated 30–40 Black people died and no White people were arrested.
It’s said that Black people didn’t move to Ocoee until 61 years later.
Norman was never found by the mob, and Perry’s wife and their daughter, although injured, survived the attack and were sent to Tampa, “to avoid further disturbance.”
What’s worse is even the Bureau of Investigation (which would later become the FBI) showed up a few weeks later. But they weren’t interested in any arson, murder, or the attacks on the Black residents; they were only interested in alleged voter fraud (which exemplifies how history tends to repeat itself).
We can’t say there’s a happy ending to this story. The leader of the mob became the mayor.
The city of Ocoee, like many other cities around the U.S., do not list the awful historical event on their city’s websites. In fact, the city still refused to apologize to the descendants of the Black families who were killed, injured, or driven out from their homes. It was only this year that Ron DeSantis signed a bill that made it mandatory for public schools to teach the history of what occured.
Descendants and civil rights activists are now fighting for reparations.