TALLAHASSEE — A state senator is seeking to expand a scholarship program set up more than 25 years ago because of a massacre in Rosewood to include people whose families were directly affected by the racially motivated 1920 Ocoee Election Day riot in Central Florida.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, said Wednesday he’s been in talks with House and Senate Republican leaders to expand the Rosewood Family Scholarship, which offers up to $6,100 a year to students descended from victims of the January 1923 massacre in the predominantly black Levy County community.
“This will be the second time in the history of this country, I believe, that a state legislature will pass a measure like this,” Bracy told reporters at the Capitol. “I am very hopeful. The conversations have been very positive with the (Senate) president and the (House) speaker, and I believe this is the year to do it.”
Along with making descendants of the people harmed by the Ocoee riot eligible for the scholarship program, Bracy hopes to increase the pot of money for the scholarships.
Last year, the University of Florida’s director of the African American Studies Program, David Canton, described the massacre in Ocoee, a small town 100 miles from Gainesville, for the Tampa Bay Times.
Nov. 2, 1920, was Election Day, and white poll workers tried to bar Moses Norman and other African Americans from voting. He had a shotgun in his car and was eventually attacked by a white mob.
Norman went to July Perry’s house to explain what happened. Right after he left, a white mob led by Orlando Police Chief Sam Salisbury attacked Perry’s home. During the confrontation, Perry’s family killed two white men, but eventually Perry was arrested and lynched. The mob used Perry’s body to send a message to deter African Americans from voting.
As the word spreads, white racial massacre protocol requires white men from surrounding towns to join the mob and participate in the massacre. Black residents had to escape for their lives as the white mob burned their town.
After the three days of terror ended, an untold number of African Americans had been murdered. Black families did not return to live in Ocoee until 1978.
“I’m not under the illusion that people will think this is not enough,” Bracy said of his bill. “But, I think that considering the makeup of the Legislature, considering the climate, considering COVID and how it’s hurt our budget, the fact that we are seriously negotiating this, I think, is a step forward.”
Bracy is pushing to include the proposal in the process of crafting a state budget, rather than seeking approval in a separate bill.
Last year, Bracy led a successful effort to require public-school students learn about the Ocoee riot, similar to a requirement for teaching about the Holocaust.
When he initially proposed the 2020 legislation, Bracy sought $150,000 per Ocoee victim, a funding level modeled, in part, on a 1994 decision by the Legislature to compensate African-American families because of the Rosewood Massacre.
In November 2018, the Ocoee City Commission issued a proclamation saying that “the historical record clearly shows that African-America residents of West Orange County in and around what later became the city of Ocoee were grievously denied their civil rights, their property, and their very lives in a series of unlawful acts perpetrated by a white mob and governmental officials on Nov. 2, 1920, and the following weeks simply because they tried to vote, as any eligible citizens should be able to do.”
The Ocoee proclamation noted that no African-Americans lived in the city for the next six decades, resulting in the area being referred to as a “sundown city.” Sundown cities were communities where Blacks were expected to avoid after sundown.