As of the writing of this blog, our nation is still unaware of who has won our federal election. With COVID-19 impacting our ability to safely vote in person, many Americans chose to exercise their rights to vote by sending in mail-in ballots over the past several weeks. All across the country, those ballots are still being counted. It is only just, of course, for every single ballot to be tabulated before an official announcement is made as to the election’s winner.
Voting, of course, is the right of every American citizen who is of age. But, for so many Americans, this wasn’t a right they were born with. There once was a time when women couldn’t take part in selecting our next president. It wasn’t until June 4, 1919 that Congress passed the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. It was finally ratified on August 18, 1920. That year marked the first time an election had women as part of the process.
1920 is also the year when one of America’s worst-ever atrocities took place.
On November 2, 1920, members of the white supremacist hate group, Ku Klux Klan converged on an African-American community in the town of Ocoee, Florida near Orlando. It was the day of the U.S. presidential election and the objective of this hateful mob was to either drive out our kill the town’s black residents to prevent them from voting.
While women were securing their right to vote in the United States, various Black organizations were conducting voter registration drives. African-Americans were often turned away from voting booths on Election Day. As Jason Byrne informs us on Medium.com, the KKK paraded through the streets of Ocoee’s black communities late on November 1, 1920 with megaphones. “Not a single Negro will be permitted to vote!” was the heinous message they bellowed into the night.
Blacks who disobeyed were threatened with “dire consequences”.
“Election Day came and at least some Blacks did attempt to vote in Orange County; however, none were permitted to enter their respective polling places,” reports Byrne, “White enforcers camped out around the centers and poll workers were given instructions to deflect their attempts.”
An African-American farmer by the name of Mose Norman decided to go to Orlando to seek the council of Judge Cheney. Cheney asked Norman for the names of everyone who wasn’t permitted to vote in an effort to start a lawsuit against the County. Upon his return to Ocoee with news of this decree, Norman and a number of his community members attempted to vote with a return message of “We will vote, by God!”
One of these individuals was Julius “July” Perry, a highly-respected church deacon.
In response to the repudiation of their racist demands, members of the KKK formed a mob and surrounded Perry’s home. In self-defence, Perry shot and killed two members of the mob, driving the rest of it away. This was only the beginning of the carnage. The Klan essentially waged a war against the people of northern Ocoee killing upwards of 50 residents. Perry was later arrested after being treated for a gunshot wound at Orlando General Hospital.
A lynch mob eventually descended on the jail. They brutalized Perry before riddling his body with bullets and then hanging him from a lightpost in order to intimidate the rest of the townfolk. The massacre marks one of the most horrifying tragedies in American history. Many Americans don’t even know about. To learn more about the Ocoee massacre, we highly recommend this documentary.
We’ve chosen to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of this atrocity in hopes to shed light on the undying importance of racial equality and, certainly, exercising your right to vote.