November 2, 1920 was the first day white women were allowed to vote in the United States. In the small Florida town of Ocoee, just west of Orlando, an attack on Black voters took place this same day and is described by the Washington Post as the “worst instance of Election Day violence” in America.
Some accounts say a white mob randomly attacked Black people while others state the violence had been plotted by white supremacist groups for weeks. That day, a man named Julius “July” Perry was lynched, other Black residents were murdered and dozens of homes were destroyed after a Black man tried to vote. The total number of deaths remains unknown today. Those who inflicted the violence never held accountable.
A new exhibit at the Orange County Regional History Center in Orlando is telling the story of what happened to Black people that day.
For Black voters today, the shadows of Election Day violence and suppression are not so far out of reach. The American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s sought to eliminate discrimination at polls and suppression in exercising the right to vote.
Poll taxes, literacy tests, and impossible tasks such guessing the exact number of bubbles in a bar of soap are just some of the tactics used to discourage Black Americans from voting.
Today, Black Americans casting their votes face longer wait times at polling locations, as locations have disappeared in communities with higher nonwhite populations, as reported by NPR.
The 13th Amendment's long history of being leveraged to systematically take away voting rights through criminal convictions cannot be ignored.
In 2018, Florida elected to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions. Republican state leadership overruled the provision and leaving people confused about their voting rights, discouraging many from being involved in the voting process at all for fear of breaking the law.
Some voters don’t see much of a difference in what is happening in today’s election from the 1960s. Joanne Bland, a demonstrator in the 1965 march across Edmund Pettus Bridge in what is known as “Bloody Sunday,” told CNN, “Sometimes I wake up and I think we are paralleling the ‘60s all over again.”
Years of police brutality and a global health crisis that has greatly affected the community has energized Black voters to get to the polls this Election Day. Record voter turnout data indicate Black Americans are making their voice heard and continuing a legacy of persistence in pursuit of their right to vote.