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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 2 months ago

State bill would compensate descendants of 1920 riot victims

Florida Senator Randolph Bracy filed a bill that would allocate $10 million in compensation for the 1920 Election Day Massacre in Ocoee.
by: Hannah Swayze News Editor

Descendants of the victims of the 1920 Ocoee Election Day Massacre could receive millions of dollars in compensation if a bill filed by Florida Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) passes. 

Senate Bill 8 was filed Aug. 1 and includes an in-depth study into the events that took place Nov. 2, 1920, when prominent black community member Julius “July” Perry was lynched. Mobs descended on what is now known as Ocoee to terrorize the black community — burning down homes and churches. 

The exact number of residents killed is unknown, but is estimated to be anywhere from six to more than 30.

“This was a gruesome event,” Bracy said. “The fact that the government was complicit in all of it ... I think there needs to be an accounting for that.”

Bracy believes the bill has merit not only because of the events of that day but also in the time that followed. He added the government was complicit in actions taken by white residents who forced black neighbors out of the area, redistributing their property among white residents who remained. 

“I’m not doing this to make a statement,” Bracy said. “I think there’s an actual legitimate claim for the compensation bill. There’s a reason for it.”

Bill Maxwell is a local activist serving his 11th year on the city of Ocoee’s Human Relations Diversity Board. He has been working to honor the memory of Perry and publicize events that transpired during the Ocoee Election Day Massacre.

He said he is proud to see follow-through at the state level and that Senate Bill 8 deserves support.

“I believe that we’re on the cusp of really healing the wounds inflicted on the state of Florida, the Orange County community and Ocoee by the 1920 Election Day Massacre,” Maxwell said. “I believe we’re really that close.”

The bill comes at a time when, locally, officials are starting to formally acknowledge the tragic event. Last year, the city of Ocoee issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 2 a day of remembrance for those who died in the massacre. Orange County followed suit in June, erecting a historical marker in downtown Orlando memorializing Perry and the events that surrounded his death. 

Maxwell said the city of Ocoee has worked to promote diversity and education about the event and has done all it can do. Should the bill pass, it would be a “cap” on all the work done at the local level, he said.

“You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’re coming from,” Maxwell said.

An official study into the incident exploring compensation possibilities is already underway. Bracy hopes that by the beginning of the legislative session in January, there will be a more comprehensive direction for the bill. He also hopes for a better idea about how to compensate the descendants of the victims appropriately — given the 100-year gap — whether it be via a scholarship or another method. 

“I think that our nation needs to start having a conversation about the systematic oppression that black people have endured since the beginning of this country,” Bracy said. “This is a local issue, but I think that we need to deal with what has happened, how the government has been a part of this systematic oppression and how do we deal with it, we reconcile it, and do our best to move forward."

Hannah Swayze is the News Editor at the West Orange Times & Observer and Windermere Observer. She is former staff writer of the Johnson City Press in Johnson City, Tennessee. She is a graduate of East Tennessee State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in media...

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