I was scrolling through Facebook this morning and came across a post about the colonization of Africa in a travel group I’m in. I scrolled through some of the comments and held back tears as I read about the terrible things so many of these countries were put through under their European and Spanish rules, when one particular comment stuck out to me. It was a bit off topic, but it made me pause and pull out my computer to do a bit of research on the subject. The commenter mentioned the Ocoee Election Day massacre of 1920.
Now we already know that Black American history is often glossed over in school, public school and private school. We learn about Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, MLK Jr., Frederick Douglas and a few others, but for the most part it’s glossed over. In fact, there was an issue recently with textbooks removing the terms “slavery” and “slaves” and replacing them with words like “workers” or even worse showing a “balanced view” of slavery. Jim Crow was summed up even quicker than slavery and all talks of the right to vote was then turned to the Women’s Suffrage movement. And once that was ratified in August 1920 grandfather clauses, literacy tests and even poll taxes weren’t really discussed in school, and it was like that part of history was forgotten about. But it shouldn’t be, we should be discussing the events of the Ocoee Election Day massacre of 1920 because it’s eerily similar to what’s going on now, a century later.
Segregation was still a thing back in 1920, and Ocoee was a flourishing town of prosperous Black people. Thriving businesses, landowners, and more. Well, the election of 1920 came and the ratification of the 19th amendment meant that on paper every man and woman, Black and white should have been able to vote. Well, that wasn’t the case. There was voter intimidation and fraud all over from the KKK and racists who not only physically harmed any Black person who tried to vote but would also intimidate them by asking them to pay an outrageous poll tax, or saying they could only vote if they passed a literacy test or if they could prove that their grandparents voted. Often times Black people would just get discouraged and give up, but that wasn’t the case in Ocoee. There were successful businessmen who knew that what was going on was illegal and would not only pay the poll tax that was only being charged to Black voters, but would also report those who were committing election fraud to the authorities. Well, that of course pissed them off even more, so in addition to taking to the streets even more in full Klan regalia, they launched an attack on the town and burned buildings, lynched and killed residents, and ran the remaining living ones out of town. In fact, the town went from being a successful Black community to becoming predominately white almost overnight and didn’t get another Black resident for another 40+ years. The two-day massacre in this small town was not in my history books, in fact, it was hardly discussed in the town that it actually happened in until recently. Within the past couple of years, there’s been an acknowledgment of the wrongdoings and there’s now even a day of recognition and a few documentaries about it, but it’s eerily similar to what’s going on now.
You have your stories of attorneys in Florida telling other folks to move to Georgia temporarily to vote illegally in this US Senate run-off election that’s starting soon. The attorney has since backpedaled and said that he wasn’t serious when he said it, but the tone of that video and him then trying to register in Georgia show otherwise. Then there’s the voter intimidation from November’s election, leading up to it, the day of and even afterward. Folks might not be marching in the streets in full Klan regalia, but their chants are mighty similar.
This is what makes this US Senate run-off in Georgia that much more important. We’re seeing history repeat itself and we can’t allow it to get as far as it did in Ocoee. Today was the last day to register to vote in the run-off and I’m hoping that every eligible voter did just that and is getting ready to safely vote early this month or on election day next month. I said it before, just because we got Biden and Harris in office doesn’t mean that our work is over. Now’s the time to get Congress on our side and then hold these reps accountable. History has its eye on you, and Georgia we have our eyes on you.