Monday, January 25, 2021

History Calls on us to Remember and to Create a More Just Future

Curator shares the history of the pre-1920 massacre

It was Saturday, January 16th – the birthday of former farmworker and warrior for social and environmental justice for farmworkers, Geraldean Matthew, who sadly had passed away in October 2016. Though she could not be there, everyone felt her spirit was with them, as they visited the Orange County Regional History Center museum in downtown Orlando for a guided tour of the “Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920” exhibit.

Linda and Sr. Gail find a moment to reminisce.

Lake Apopka Farmworker Memorial Quiltmakers, Linda Lee, along with her great-grandchildren, and Sarah Downs, who organized the field trip, took advantage of the opportunity to view the exhibit before it closes in March. Joining them was Sr. Gail Grimes, co-founder of the Farmworker Association of Florida, and Laura Firtel of the Hope CommUnity Center, both of whom have lived and worked in Apopka for many years and who know the lives and stories of the Black farmworkers in the community.

Geraldean, Linda, and others in the Black community in Central Florida remember the days when no Blacks lived in Ocoee and any Blacks traveling in the area made a wide berth around the town because of the collective historical memory of the racist atrocities there. Their parents and grandparents, and the elders in the community, remember the fear and terror of that terrible time. The exhibit, painstakingly researched, shows the history and events leading up to The Ocoee Massacre of 1920, which was and still is the largest example of voting-day violence in the history of this country.

How would you feel if only white men could be jurists?

In the early 20th century, there was a flourishing middle-class Black community in the town of Ocoee, northwest of Orlando. When Moses Norman, a Black man living in Ocoee, tried to vote on election day, he was turned away at the polls by the White poll workers. This triggered a series of events leading to the murder and lynching of July Perry and a massacre in which Whites, including members of the KKK, from as far away as Orlando, killed many members of the Black community and burned their homes. The result was a mass exodus of Black renters and homeowners away from the dangerous, life-threatening area for decades. Though Ocoee now boasts a more diverse community and a Black city councilman, the exhibit connects the historical events of racism, hatred, and terror to recent incidents “some right here at home,” and poses questions about how we can move forward.

Linda’s great-grandchildren and Laura take a test to determine if they’d be able to vote in the Jim Crow era. Oh, wait. Laura wouldn’t have had to take the test. Hmm, wonder why.

To learn more about the Ocoee Massacre, visit:

Thanks to the two knowledgeable curators who led our tour and interacted with all of us, from the 9-year-old to the 82 years young!

Markel and Martin meet.

“Yesterday, This Was Home: The Ocoee Massacre of 1920” is extended through March 17, 2021. Don’t miss it!

No comments:

Post a Comment