Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (2023)

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (1) Article

Photo shows July Perry (left), victim of the Ocoee Massacre, and downtown Ocoee (right) in 1902.

OCOEE, Florida.-One hundred years ago, racism triumphed in Ocoee.

The dark day in Florida history intensified after a black citizen tried to exercise his right to vote at a polling station but was rejected on Election Day.

The homes and belongings of black families were burned and set on fire. At least four black people were killed, one was lynched and his body was hung from a branch for all to see.

It is unknown to this day how many were killed in a deliberate attempt to bury evidence of the events and avoid documentation altogether.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (2)

It came at a time when black people were prospering, owning their land and making a living, and there was a push to register more black voters across the United States and in Ocoee, which is located between Lake Apopka and Orlando.

But the repression continued and most black people fled in the following years due to constant terror. For decades no one came back.

It was a day that cast a shadow over Florida's past and remains the largest incident of Election Day violence in US history.

ARCHIVE:1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre: Florida Museum Tries to Brighten Dark Days


In the decades and days leading up to November 2, 1920, several factors contributed to making an event like the Ocoee massacre possible. The deadly insurgency was not isolated in a vacuum: it was a long-standing edifice.

One of these factors, and the most obvious one, was slavery.

The Underground Railroad was known for transporting black slaves to northern Canada, but nearly two centuries earlier, Spanish terror was a safe haven.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (3)

Map of San Agustín in 1783. In 1513, Ponce de León set out in search of the Fountain of Youth and was accompanied by free Africans during his quest. In 1526, those enslaved by the Spanish helped build San Agustín, the first permanent European settlement.

As early as 1687, the Spanish colony of Florida welcomed the first slaves: eight men, three women and a three-year-old boy. More followed, seeking refuge in Florida.

In 1693, Spain granted them their freedom and made Florida a haven for enslaved Africans, provided they converted to Roman Catholicism and swore allegiance to the Spanish king.

However, the rules changed after the Adams-Onis Treaty, when Spain ceded the territory to the United States. In 1845, Florida was admitted to the Union.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (4)

Moses strongit was the first legally sanctioned free black community in the United States. Today it is a designated state park in the historic town of St. Augustine, Florida. (City of Saint Augustine)

Before the Civil War, in the mid-1850s, a man named Dr. JD Starke moved to present-day Ocoee and founded the first settlement in the area with a group of slaves.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (5)

Photo of Lake Starke before 1880 and before development. (City of Ocoee)

After President Abraham Lincoln won the presidential election, Florida seceded from the Union on January 10, 1861. In February, they joined other southern states to form the Confederate States of America. This eventually led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the southern states.

According to the US National Archives., about 179,000 black men served in the army and 19,000 served in the navy. Nearly 40,000 died during the war. Of these, about 30,000 died from infection or disease.

Although the 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery in the country, it resulted in Jim Crow Laws.In Florida, which affected mixed marriages, cohabitation, education, and juvenile delinquency involving blacks and whites.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (6)

Photograph shows Bluford Avenue and downtown Ocoee in 1902. (Town of Ocoee)

After the Civil War, Confederate veterans began to move to the Ocoee area, including Captain Bluford M. Sims, a Tennessee native. He purchased land from Starke and cultivated the first known citrus tree nursery in the United States.

The land where the Sims grew these citruses is where most of what is now downtown Ocoee is located. He also figures prominently in Black Earth in the days following the massacre.


Jim Crow laws prevailed for years, even during therotate summer, as lynchings and race riots increased over several months in 1919.

This year, a convicted child molester in Jacksonville was transferred to a prison in St. Augustine for security reasons. Although,A white mob stormed the Jacksonville jail and finally killed two black menwho were arrested in another incident.

Both were hanged, shot, tied behind cars and dragged through town.

Red Summer took place at a time when soldiers were returning from World War I, including black soldiers.

Young black men enlisted in World War I, which gave them the opportunity to see parts of the world where racism was not as rampant as it was in the United States.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (7)

Portrait of an unidentified World War I soldier holding an American model 1917 Enfield rifle. (Florida State Library and Archives)

MarchAmerican Commission on Battle Monuments, Florida provided over 42,000 to US forces during the war. More than 13,000 were African Americans from Florida. Not only did they return home after fighting for their country, they returned with a renewed interest in equality.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (8)

Sidney Catts was Florida's 22nd governor, serving in office from 1917 to 1921. He publicly labeled black residents as part of an "inferior race" and refused to criticize two 1919 lynchings. (Florida State Library and Archives)

When black veterans returned to the United States, "they were seen as a particular threat to Jim Crow and racial subordination".Equal Justice Initiative reports. The 1919 attacks, which were racist in many placeswere started by white soldiers. At least 13 veterans were lynched in the United States after World War I.

The slaves who settled with Starke in the Ocoee area left after the Civil War. By 1920, the African Americans living there were no longer the officially enslaved individuals in that area.


The 15th Amendment was inserted into the Constitution in 1870 and reads:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or restricted by the United States or any other state on the basis of race, color or prior conditions of servitude."

However, that didn't stop the South from creating its own rules to prevent blacks from voting. Florida also adopted several loopholes.

After the slaves were freed, many were left uneducated, leading to the requirement of a literacy test in order to vote. Many were also poor, which was part of the motivation behind the poll tax.

At the time, Florida was one of four states that relied on the election tax to discourage blacks from voting. He was one of the first in the country to adopt it.

Only with the 1965 electoral law were these obstacles, which supposedly prevented blacks from voting, banned.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (9)

Josiah Walls was the first black member of Congress from Florida after winning the 1870 election. He was a former slave and Union soldier from Alachua County. For the next 116 years, he was Florida's only black congressman. (Florida State Library and Archives)

During the 1920 election year in Florida, there was a large movement for black voter registration because they had historically voted Republican. Party platforms were different back then.

in Orlando,Richter John M Cheney, a white Republican then running for the Senate, helped lead this campaign. On September 20, 1920, Cheney and attorney W. R. O'Neal received a letter from the Ku Klux Klan threatening to stop lecturing on the black vote.

The letter said in part: "We will always enjoy WHITE SUPERIORITY in this country and whoever interferes will face the consequences".

The end of the letter was copied by the local KKK branch, telling members: "Watch out for these two".

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (10)

Letter from Grand Master KKK Florida to W.R. O'Neal and Judge John Cheney. This can be seen at the Orange County Regional History Center.

As the number of black enrollments increased, so did the number of KKK members, particularly in Central Florida.

Prior to Election Day, the KKK held demonstrations across the state. There were hundreds on the streets of big cities like Jacksonville and Orlando.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (11)

In this 1920 photo, a Ku Klux Klan float parades down Flager Street in Miami. (Florida State Library and Archives)

These events between 1850 and 1920 led to the boiling point that spread to Ocoee on Election Day.


Ocoee had not yet been incorporated into Orange County and did not officially become a city until 1925. At the time of the massacre, it was under Precinct 10, which formed part of the county's constituency.

According to the 1870 census, there were 11 black residents in the unincorporated area. In 1885 there were 15. That number grew in 1920 to 255 blacks with 560 white residents.

Despite Jim Crow laws, black people worked, saved, and bought their own homes in the early 20th century. There has been an apparent increase in economic competition within the African American population.

Two of the most important people whose names are associated with the Ocoee massacre are Moses Norman and July Perry. Both were black landowners and labor agents. Essentially, they served as intermediaries between black workers and white employers.

Norman had moved to the area from South Carolina and lived on Sims' property while working for him, which was not uncommon for blue-collar workers, black or white.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (12)

The photo shows an Ocoee voter registration pamphlet and ballot box from Seminole County in the early 20th century. They can be seen in the Orange County Regional History Center's exhibit on the Ocoee massacre.

Events immediately after Norman's attempted vote on November 2, 1920 are essentially confusing. There are differing accounts, mainly because a conscious attempt was made not only to avoid documenting the evidence that occurred that night, but also to destroy it.

According to the Orange County Regional History Center, most historical accounts agree that Norman tried to vote but was rejected for allegedly failing to pay his election taxes.

Later that night, after polling stations closed, a group of armed white men came to Perry's home looking for Norman.

It is unclear how the encounter escalated, but there was a shootout. Two white police officers were killed and Perry was seriously injured. Perry's wife and daughter fled through the back of the house.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (13)

Press clipping after the Election Day Massacre. (Orange County Regional History Center)

Perry received medical attention and was taken to the Orange County Jail in downtown Orlando. According to the Florida state coroner's inquest, which took place between November 3 and 4, a mob of whites overwhelmed the only jailer who stayed behind to protect Perry.

The mob grabbed Perry, beat him, shot him and hanged him from a tree. Perry's body was eventually taken to Greenwood Cemetery, where he was buried.

That night, the mob began torching the black-owned Homeson, as well as churches and a fraternal lodge. Some reports say that as many as 60 blacks were killed, but the Orange County Regional History Center recently confirmed four deaths through public records. State death certificates were not retained after the deadly uprising.

Carey Hand Funeral Home cared for the bodies. There's a memo that says, "Three people of color buried together in... caskets in a tomb."

Although photographs were available in 1920, no photographic evidence was obtained on the night of the massacre or its aftermath.

Norman fled Ocoee and lived in other parts of Florida before heading to New York City to live out his days.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (14)

Photograph of July Perry being hanged during the Ocoee Election Day Massacre (Orange County Regional History Center)


There were sections of the black community that remained intact, but one section burned down.

In the days that followed, a group of former white soldiers surrounded Ocoee to restore order. After that, after aorlando sentryArticle at the time, they received a hotel dinner for helping out during the "Ocoee Troubles".

Perry's wife Estella and daughter Coretha, who was shot in the arm, were taken to the Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa for their safety.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (15)

It stars Coretha Perry, daughter of July Perry.orlando sentryPhotograph on display at the Orange County Regional History Center. He points to a scar from a gunshot wound.

There are historical accounts of people appearing at the prison to gain access but being turned away.

After Perry's death, neither Estella nor Coretha were named executors. Instead, it went to Bluford Sims, one of the first settlers to serve in the Confederate Army.

It's unclear how he acquired the property, but he posted an ad onorlando sentryHe said he was selling property that "belonged to niggers fresh out of Ocoee."

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (16)

One of the Bluford Sims ads on display at the Orange County Regional History Center

His ad wasn't the only one selling black real estate.Two weeks after the massacre, there were advertisements in Orlando and Miami offering woods and land for sale.

Eventually, Sims was found to be incompetent, likely due to his age, and no longer able to handle real estate matters. He was then passed on to his daughter-in-law, Eva Sims.

Perry's family sued for damages and were ordered by the court to provide a property book, but never did.

Although there are some documents, to this day it is not known whether blacks were compensated for their assets.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (17)

Walter White, a light-skinned black man, later became the chief secretary of the NAACP. His fair complexion allowed him to pass for white and investigate dozens of massacres, including the one at Ocoee. (Library of Congress)

Two days after the massacre, the coroner's inquest into Perry's death, as well as the two white men who died in their first encounter, established that their deaths were committed by unknown persons.

Soon after, Walter White went to Ocoee with the NAACP to pose as a black real estate agent and gather information. He later testified before the US House of Representatives and Census Committee in December.

Between November 18 and 29, the Department of Justice launched an investigation, but only to determine whether there was electoral fraud.

On November 30, a grand jury reported its findings, but the full report is currently missing. Perry's wife and daughter were not charged in connection with the deaths of the two white men looking for Norman at the Tampa jail until 27 days after Election Day.

After that, the family spent 12 years fighting land disputes and lawsuits over their Ocoee estate. On March 7, 1932, seven family members were each awarded $125.90 for the loss of their home, possessions, approximately 30 acres of land, and their loved one, July Perry.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (18)

The 1920 Ocoee census shows that 255 blacks lived in 78 households and a total of 560 whites were registered. In 1930, census records listed only two black servants in Ocoee. (Orange County Regional History Center)

Eventually, all black residents left the area as they faced continued terror.

In one case, George Betsey, an African-American resident of Ocoee, was found injured, tied to a pole for "talking too much about the problems in Ocoee last November".

In other cases, dynamite was thrown into houses while other blacks were beaten and threatened.

It would be at least another 50 years before an African American moved to Ocoee.


This year marks the centenary of the massacre.

In 2018, during a commission meeting, the City of Ocoee issued a proclamation commemorating the tragic event:

“In the 1920s, historical records show that African-American residents of western Orange County and around what later became the town of Ocoee were severely denied the right to vote, their civil rights, their property and their lives. in a series of illegal acts. committed by a mob of whites and government officials".

the annunciationcan be read here.

A historic landmark was placed outside the building last year. Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando named after July Perry. It is the first physical memorial that acknowledges her lynching.

This year, the city has scheduled several events to honor the victims and descendants of the massacre.The list of events can be seen here.

Ocoee Massacre of 1920: The largest incident of Election Day violence in the US occurred 100 years ago in Florida (19)

(Orange County Government)

Museum historians have spent the past three years researching the Ocoee massacre.and recently inaugurated the most complete and comprehensive exhibitionAbout the subject.

While the museum acknowledges that there are multiple versions of what happened that day, they have spent endless hours corroborating information through census records, property records and other official documents.

ARCHIVE:1920 Ocoee Massacre: Victim's great-niece says African Americans were killed for exercising their right to vote

For example, an interactive map in the exhibit shows land owned by black residents in Ocoee before, during and after the massacre. However, to this day it is unclear what African Americans received in exchange for their ownership.

"Deeds exist, but deeds and their transfer don't always tell the whole picture," explained Pam Schwartz, the museum's chief curator. I will secretly give you $200 here. Here's 10 dollars, I'll let you keep your life.'"

Based on the information historians uncovered, land formerly owned by these Black Ocoee residents would be worth more than $9 million today, Schwartz explained.

'Unthinkable': July Perry's great-niece reflects on the legacy of the Ocoee massacre

In 1920, on Election Day in Ocoee, July Perry was captured, arrested, lynched, and hanged after another black man in the community tried to vote. His great-niece, Sha'ron Cooley McWhite, says that although the tragic event took place a century ago, it still causes her family grief today. “It's unthinkable, but the important thing is not how they killed him. That's why they killed him. We have to talk about this."

But for Schwartz, perhaps the investigation's most alarming lesson was the lack of justice, he said.

"No one, no one has been convicted in this case," he said. “An entire community burned down and people were killed and no one was found guilty. Nobody paid for it, and this local government was involved in covering it up and allowing it to happen.

Over the summer, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1213, creating a task force that would recommend the most accurate and appropriate methods for teaching the Ocoee Massacre in classrooms.

Ocoee Election Day Riots Will Be Taught in Florida Schools

House Bill 1213, signed into Florida law this summer, will ensure that public school students are informed about the largest incident of Election Day violence in U.S. history, which occurred in Ocoee and resulted in the lynching of a black man.

An earlier version of the bill included more than $2 million in reparations for Ocoee victims and their descendants, but that language was replaced by the educational curriculum amid fears that some of the reparations would not materialize.

The museum is also building a separate digital guide for teachers. Schwartz said he is asking for donations to help develop the class's curriculum.

The history center exhibit also includes oral histories from the descendants of Ocoee victims.

“They work hard, they're enterprising, they're moving and hustling, and they're all focused on living a really great life,” Schwartz said. "I think there's definitely a legacy there, not just this dark legacy of having this in your family history, but also the beautiful legacy of people who have overcome it."

Perry's great-grandchildren live in Tampa and have since startedJuli Perry Foundation, which aims to "support underserved populations with a desire to become entrepreneurs, landowners, developers, architects and anyone interested in the development process of agriculture, multifamily housing and commercial construction".

PREVIOUSLY:Ocoee massacre will be taught in Florida schools, new law enacted

Schwartz said this year's events, like the Black Lives Matter movement, seem to show the same struggles seen a hundred years ago.

"If you look at the issues: voting rights, gentrification and trying to force people out of their homes," he explained. "These issues of those in legal authority and law enforcement interactions with the black community ... see how these issues from 100 years ago and these events reflect the history we are living in now."

If you are interested in visiting the Orange County Regional History Center's Ocoee Massacre exhibit, you can learn more by visiting themuseum website. Runs until February 14, 2021.

Those interested in making a donation to the Historic Center can contact the museum at 407-836-8500.

The historical facts that discuss the Ocoee Massacre and its aftermath in this article have been provided by US historians.Orange County Regional History Center.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Horacio Brakus JD

Last Updated: 03/12/2023

Views: 5594

Rating: 4 / 5 (71 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Horacio Brakus JD

Birthday: 1999-08-21

Address: Apt. 524 43384 Minnie Prairie, South Edda, MA 62804

Phone: +5931039998219

Job: Sales Strategist

Hobby: Sculling, Kitesurfing, Orienteering, Painting, Computer programming, Creative writing, Scuba diving

Introduction: My name is Horacio Brakus JD, I am a lively, splendid, jolly, vivacious, vast, cheerful, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.