By ORLANDO SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD – The lynching of July Perry on Election Day in 1920 is a permanent stain on Central Florida’s history.
But we can think of no better way to honor his memory than by voting on Election Day 2020.
And that voter suppression won’t be tolerated, even in its softer, 21st century forms.
In Tennessee and Georgia, where poll workers tried to turn away voters for wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts.
And here in Florida, where lawmkers thwarted the will of voters who overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 two years ago, giving ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve served their sentences.
The vote was supposed to undo a 150-year-old, Reconstruction-era law designed to keep former slaves from voting by stripping felons of that right. Freed Black men would get arrested for minor crimes considered felonies and, voilà, one less Black voter in Florida.
For years, formerly incarcerated men and women had to plead with the governor and Cabinet to have their voting rights restored. Governors like Charlie Crist were willing to give them that right, that second chance. During his final two years in office, Crist and the Cabinet restored voting rights to nearly 30,000 Floridians.
In his first two years in office, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet restored the rights of 420 ex-felons. In his first year in office, Gov. Ron DeSantis restored rights for 26 Floridians.
Amendment 4 was supposed to change that. After it passed, however, the state Legislature spotted a loophole and decided a law was needed. You know, to clarify matters.
Lawmakers mandated that ex-felons had to satisfy all fines and fees they owed. Nothing in the amendment made that provision mandatory, but the law’s supporters knew full well that would minimize the number of men and women who could register.
It worked. Of the estimated 775,000 people who might have been eligible to vote, about 67,000 of them ended up registering. Some didn’t register because they feared more trouble would come their way over an unpaid fine or fee they didn’t know about.
What’s done is done, at least until Florida gets a Legislature and a governor who stop wielding voting rights like a political chain saw.
Until then, voters can punch back by voting.
And that brings us back to the century-old story of July Perry, who took on the dangerous, early 20th century job of helping Black people register to vote.
After another Black Ocoee resident, Moses Norman, was turned away from the polls, a mob of white men ended up at Perry’s house. Gunfire broke out and the mob went to work, burning homes and capturing Perry. The mob wasn’t finished. They removed Perry from the jail in Orlando and hanged him.
The city was emptied of Black residents for decades, and it stayed that way until the 1980 Census showed some had returned.
The relatives of those victims probably will never be made whole for what their forebears lost.
But on this centennial anniversary of the massacre, everyone can remember July Perry and the other Ocoee victims by doing what Moses Norman was stopped from doing — voting.
Cast your ballot Tuesday, if you haven’t already.
Don’t let the villains win.
Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The editorial board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to email@example.com.
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