OCOEE, Fla. — A central Florida town where dozens of African-Americans were massacred and a black neighborhood was burned down almost 100 years ago is renouncing its racist past.
Ocoee city commissioners plan to issue a proclamation Tuesday acknowledging the 1920 attack on the black community in that caused African-Americans to move away for decades.
The proclamation renounces the city's past as "a sundown town," a place where African-Americans could be endangered if they were in city limits after sunset. The Orlando Sentinel reports the proclamation reads: "Let it be known that Ocoee shall no longer be known as a sundown city but the sunrise city with the bright light of harmony, justice and prosperity shining upon all our citizens."
George Oliver, who this year became the first African-American elected to the Ocoee City Commission, said it's time to let people know that Ocoee has evolved.
"If you were black, you didn't want to go through here, day or night, but if you had to, you made sure if at all possible that you got out of town before the sun went down," Oliver said. "That's changed. It's time we let people know."
In 1920, a white mob attacked Ocoee's black community after African-Americans attempted to vote. The mob surrounded the home of July Perry, set fire to Perry's neighborhood and massacred dozens of black residents. The mob lynched Perry in nearby Orlando.
After the massacre, about 500 black residents fled Ocoee, leaving behind their homes and possessions. Ocoee had no black residents until the 1980, according to the U.S. census.
African-Americans now make up about a fifth of the town's 46,000 residents, and Hispanics represent under a quarter of the population, according to the census.
Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson accompanied a group of central Florida residents to the April opening of a national lynching memorial and museum in Montgomery, Alabama. He said the memorial moved him.
"It sends chills down your back," Johnson said.
Perry's 79-year-old granddaughter, Gladys Franks Bell, said she never thought she'd live to see official recognition of the tragic event by town officials. Her then-teenage father and his siblings escaped Ocoee by hiding in woods and swampy wetlands.
"None of my family has ever forgotten," Bell said. "It's time for other people to remember."