State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D–Ocoee, plans to file legislation asking for reparations to the descendants of the 1920 Ocoee massacre.
On Election Day in 1920, the Central Florida town was gripped in violence as a massacre erupted when a black man named Mose Norman attempted to vote. The KKK responded by going to the home of July Perry, a prominent African-American in town, looking for Norman. The mob shot and killed Perry, hanging him from a tree and then burned an entire African American neighborhood.
With no accurate count, the estimates of deaths vary, but between 50 to 70 people were murdered that night. Once the North Quarter neighborhood was burned, as many as 450 people were forced out of the area never to return. By the morning, just one African American lived in Ocoee.
Bracy said July Perry’s murder wasn’t just about voting.
“The impetus really wasn’t necessarily the voting in 1920 even though that was one of the problems,” Bracy told Florida Daily. “ The real impetus was that July Perry was for all intents and purposes a wealthy land owner. He owned his land free and clear, and there was a lot of jealousy there that he operated independently of the white community. Basically, the financial impact is what motivated those folks to murder him and take out the whole community.”
Now the time is right for the descendants of those people to be paid by the state, Bracy insists.
“There needs to be an acknowledgment of the event, the tragedy,” he said. “We really need to work toward reconciliation, and I think this is one of the ways to do that.”
Noting that many African Americans had their land redistributed by the government, with titles being handed to whites free and clear, Bracy said it was time for justice.
“When you look at how events like this can affect a family, and that pain goes on for generations, when you look at the government’s role in it, or its inaction, it has an effect on generations to come,” he said.
A study is now underway to try and figure out who should be paid and how much they should be paid. Bracy is deferring to that study before any final decisions are made. His bill starts with a $10 million allocation to those direct descendants that would step forward.
Bracy told Florida Daily they should probably get more.
“Although I think the numbers are not nearly enough, I’m realistic in looking at the Legislature’s history of how they deal with this type of things,” he said.
The Florida House is Bracy’s big worry, and he said he has some confidence in the actions of Gov. Ron DeSantis to date, telling Florida Daily the governor’s “stance on race relations has been better than people thought.”
Bracy is hoping the 100 year anniversary will spur the Legislature into action.
“I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but I do think there are different times now where people are starting to have these conversations,” he said.
As for those that think there should be no reparations since generations have now passed and the victims are long gone, Bracy scoffed at the notion that the victims’ descendants should just get over it and get on with their lives.
“I don’t think we will ever get to that point until we openly and honestly talk about these things. You can’t really just say ‘get over it. Yeah, we stole hundreds of acres 100 years ago. So what if it’s worth 100 million dollars now’. I just don’t think you can really bypass that, and think that is not worth a conversation to deal with that,” he said.
This year, the Orange County Commission in conjunction with Ocoee and the city of Orlando put up a marker in downtown Orlando at Heritage Square, right in front of the History Center.
Bracy thinks this was a good start but more action should be taken.
Reach Mike Synan at firstname.lastname@example.org.