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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020 2 years ago

New bill to educate Florida students on historical events on governor's desk

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House Bill 1213 mandates that all Florida students learn about anti-Semitism, as well as the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots.
by: Danielle Hendrix Former Associate Editor

A house bill including a provision that all Florida students learn about the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre has been sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

House Bill 1213 — sponsored by Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) — involves educational instruction of historic events.

The bill mandates every school district teach students about the state’s policy against anti-Semitism. The provision of requiring that students also learn about the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots is the result of an amendment filed by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando), which Fine supported. 

Under HB 1213, the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force would be directed to determine ways in which the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots will be included in required instruction on black history. The task force would be required to submit recommendations to the commissioner and the State Board of Education by a specified date.

The bill also would direct the secretary of state to take certain action regarding the inclusion of the history of the riots in museum exhibits, direct the secretary of environmental protection to assess naming opportunities for state parks or a portion of their facilities in recognizing victims of the riots and encourage district school boards to assess naming opportunities for school facilities in recognition of the victims.

It also requires certain instruction related to anti-Semitism in the required instruction relating to the Holocaust, as well as designating a certain week as “Holocaust Education Week.”

The provision for including education of the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Riots, along with related naming recognition opportunities, stems from Bracy’s Senate Bill 1262. That bill was passed by the state Senate March 5 but ultimately died in messages in the House.

“It was extremely important to me and became a mission of mine, and I think people need to know about what happened in Ocoee 100 years ago.” - Sen. Randolph Bracy

Bracy said with November marking the 100th anniversary of the Ocoee massacre, it is extremely important to him that future generations be educated about the event and its victims. One of those victims was Julius “July” Perry, a leader in the early Orange County black community who was lynched by a mob.

“It’s been 100 years since the massacre happened, and I think the victims are looking down and would be proud that at least there would be some education about what happened,” Bracy said. “It was extremely important to me and became a mission of mine, and I think people need to know about what happened in Ocoee 100 years ago.”

A monument installed last year in downtown Orlando states a black resident named Mose Norman attempted to vote on Election Day Nov. 3, 1920, but was turned away. Norman attempted again to vote but was assaulted and chased away by armed white men stationed at the polls. Norman reportedly fled to Perry’s home, where an angry mob surrounded and burned the home.

Norman escaped, but Perry was arrested, transported to Orlando and thrown in the Orange County Jail. A lynch mob took Perry from his cell shortly after and hanged him.

The following two days were marked by violence, during which a white mob burned 25 black homes, two black churches and a masonic lodge. According to the monument, the Ocoee massacre resulted in the deaths of between six and more than 30 black residents, and the entire black community was driven out of Ocoee.

“I think it’s important to put it out there so people know about it, learn the history and it can always be a marker for us to continue to strive for better in our community,” Bracy said. “It shows where we’ve come from and where we’re trying to go.”

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Danielle Hendrix was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com.

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