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‘Change has come’: Bill mandating history of Ocoee massacre be taught in Florida schools signed into law

OCOEE, Fla. — In five months, the city of Ocoee will mark 100 years since a massacre that happened when Black residents tried to vote in the county election.

An untold number of Black people were killed, and one of them was lynched when the Ku Klux Klan dragged him out of a home.

There is little in the history books about this troubled part of the state's history, but State Sen. Randolph Bracy, of Orange County, is been pushing to change that.

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Bracy’s mission scored a major victory when a bill he championed requiring this part of history to be taught in schools was signed into law. The bill also calls for museums and some buildings to be named for those who were murdered.

“Thank you for ensuring that a change is not going to come, but a change has come,” said Sharon McWhite, the great-niece of July Perry.

Perry was dragged from his Ocoee home in November 1920 and into Orlando where his body was found hanging and riddled with bullets.

WATCH: A Conversation on Race in Central Florida

“July Perry was lynched and the Black community of Ocoee was burned to the ground, their property was illegally taken,” Bracy said.

The day that led to Perry's lynching is known as the single bloodiest day in modern American political history.

Black people determined to vote were told to leave town or face death, and according to the William & Mary Law School, a mob partially composed of government officials killed at least 50 Black people.

READ: Bills propose more education on Ocoee massacre, compensation for decedents

Census records show nearly 500 Black people disappeared. More than 100 owned their land, which was immediately sold as special bargains to white people with the help of the court.

Records show those landowners were never compensated.

The person who took ownership of Perry's land was Capt. Bluford Marion Sims, the man for whom the main corridor through town is now named.

“This bill validates my great uncle, Julius July Perry ... It recognizes the hurt and pain that so many of us has experienced day to day,” McWhite said. “Especially the Black residents.”

Part of Bracy's bill included financial reparations for the descendants of the massacre victims, but that was taken out.

There is now a push to rename Bluford Avenue, but the mayor said the residents who live in the area are not likely to agree to that.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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