A new historical marker downtown honors Julius “July” Perry, a man who was lynched in Orlando nearly 100 years ago.
Downtown Orlando unveiled a new historical marker Friday, June 21, to honor Julius “July” Perry, a man who was lynched during a dark period of Orange County history now known as the Ocoee Massacre.
The marker, which sits in Heritage Square Park in front of the Orange County Regional History Center, details Perry’s murder by a group of newly deputized white men who ambushed Perry’s house in search of Mose Norman, a black land-owner and friend of Perry’s, who was chased away from the polls on Election Day in 1920.
The men burned Perry’s house and threw him in jail. The next morning, on Nov. 3, a lynch mob removed him from his cell, beat him and hanged him.
Perry’s murder was the beginning of a deadly period in Ocoee’s history. In the days following, Ocoee’s black community was subjected to violence as mobs burned residents’ churches and homes. The number of people killed during the Ocoee Massacre is suspected to be anywhere from six to more than 30. Within a year, the entire community was driven out of the city.
“The sacrifice of Mr. Perry so that African Americans could vote is a dark and deadly part of our history and one that will not be forgotten,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said during the ceremony. “It is because of his sacrifice and other African Americans before me that I am able to stand here today as the first African American mayor of Orange County.”
The ceremony was sponsored by the Montgomery, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative and the Truth and Justice Project of Orange County. The marker was requested by the Equal Justice Initiative as part of its Community Remembrance Project.
Demings, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other elected officials were joined by descendents of Perry and hundreds of community members to honor Perry’s memory.
After Demings spoke, a sheet was lifted to reveal the sign for the first time. Only the sound of a saxophone playing could be heard over the faint noises of traffic. Many wiped away tears as they read or began to sing along to the music.
Pastor Stephen Nunn, great-grandson of Perry, said he hopes this is the beginning of spreading awareness of Perry’s story and others like it — not only to the public but also to lawmakers even as far as The White House.
“I believe it’s always a step in the right direction when truth is being revealed and people of all cultures can embrace the truth,” Nunn said. “The truth is not always easy. Sometimes, it’s hard to swallow, but yet, it must be. And then, once it’s in the system, I believe people can then digest it better and understand the importance of it.”
Nunn said if he could take one lesson away from Perry’s life, it would be to have courage.
“He was a man of courage,” he said. “Even in the midst of knowing what he was surrounded with, and adversities, he was a man of courage to do what he felt he was destined and purposed to do.”