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Ocoee, Florida,1920: Part 2

Updated: Jan 23

On August 5th of 1920, the same newspaper (The Tampa Tribune) that published the stories in the first part of this series published a story titled “Organizing Knights of the Ku Klux Klan: Southern Ideals Will be Maintained” which reported that the movement was spreading and growing. The article noted; “Representatives of the Klan are proceeding actively with the formation of the Klan in this state, and it is announced that a branch of the Klan will be organized at an early date in every city and town.”


The paper’s beliefs on the Klan and their growth are clear in the next section. “The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which is but a reorganization of the order that ran the carpet-bagger and the scalawag from the South in the stirring days of the Reconstruction period and restored to the white people of the South their rightful place in the nation and the management of their own affairs, was formed in Atlanta in 1915.”


It is also important to note the reported ideals and commitments of this Klan.

· To inoculate the sacred principles and noble ideals of chivalry

· The development of character

· The protection of the home and the chastity of womanhood

· The exemplification of a pure patriotism

· The preservation of American ideals

· The maintenance of white supremacy

And “only native-born American citizens who believe in the tenets of the Christian religion and owe no allegiance of any degree or nature to any foreign government, political institution, sect, people or persons are eligible for membership.” (The Tampa Tribune, 05 Aug 1920, accessed via Newspapers.com on September 5, 2021)


Royalty-free stock photo ID: 242815225

Masked Ku Klux Klan member, holds a noose outside a car window during a parade through an African American neighborhood of Miami on the night before a primary election in May 1939.


We can argue all we want about the separation of church and state, but we also cannot ignore the fact that Christianity and white supremacy have long been wed on this continent and in Europe before it. Many people associate the Klan with the decades immediately after the end of Reconstruction, but the 1920’s saw a resurgence that included nearly every state in the country and lasted well through the Civil Rights actions and movements of the 1950's and 1960's.


Those who asserted that there was no possible way that the reported Klan activity in Ocoee was possible on Tuesday the 2nd of November ignore an important fact - there is media reported Klan activity in Orlando and Orange County, Florida including Ocoee on Saturday, October 30th and Sunday, October 31st.


The Orlando Evening Star front page on Monday, November reports “ALL CONFIDENT OF VICTORY: Clansman Cowled and Clad in Flowing White, Parade Orlando’s Streets More Than 500 Strong.” It goes on to state that, “A silent host, cowled and gowned in flowing robes, treading with dignity, single file on Orange avenue and into Church street going west, marching in Orlando Saturday night at 9:30 to remind the people here that the South was not dead nor sleeping.” After describing the three white-draped horses that led the parade, the paper continues, “Their appearance reminded patriarchs of the days that were, when the South struggled against the forces of intrigue and oppression, when the white-clad figures fared abroad by night to right wrongs, to preserve tradition, and those who were born before the Civil War were reminded of the time when the white men of the South redeemed their land from ignorant domination.” (The Orlando Evening Star, 01 Nov 1920, accessed via Newspapers.com on September 5, 1920)

Image from the Orlando Evening Star Article above.


According to that great tool of our age – Wikipedia – the population of Orlando in 1920 was 9,282 and the population of Orange County was only 19,980 people – not even enough on the county level to count them in the larger Florida communities over 25,000. Of those, 10,042 were male and 6,786 of those men were white. By the roughest of measurements, that means that roughly ten percent of the white men of Orange County or Orlando marched just days before the massacre in Ocoee. It is not a stretch to think that those same men were still around on Tuesday when it was reported that over 200 of them descended on Ocoee to drive the Black community out of town – one way or another? It is also not a stretch to emphasize the connection to religion – Colonel William Simmons who rebuilt the Klan starting in Atlanta was an ordained Methodist minister.


That same issue of the Orlando Star reported the story of a racial “Uprising” in Montgomery, Alabama over the same weekend when Black people somehow managed to all die as they mounted a vicious attack that left no white people dead. The report of that event is eerily like the one reported by the Tampa paper two days later regarding Ocoee.


Not all in Florida were in favor of the Klan’s revival. Both the Ocala Evening Star and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville pushed for the Klan to be rejected. However, it is important to note that neither did it because they disagreed with the Klan’s commitment to white supremacy, but only because they felt it was no longer necessary and diminished Southern men.

Royalty-free stock illustration ID: 237233473 Ku Klux Klan parade in New York State, 1924.

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