Phase 3: The Legacy of Ocoee

Historians analyze and interpret the past, and distance from the events is thought to improve perspective and produce deeper and more nuanced analysis.  The first two phases of this exhibit benefitted from distance in important ways.  Phase 1 incorporated new methodologies such as the use of oral histories with Ocoee descendants to capture family memories and perspectives.  Digital access to organizational and governmental documents as well as historic newspapers informed our understanding of the Black economic gains in the acquisition of homes, groves, and cropland, the structural effects of segregation that raised barriers to social advancement, the violence of disfranchisement, and the power of white supremacy to obliviate the Black presence and history in Ocoee.  Our analysis of the Ocoee Massacre fits within the generations of scholarship that placed the violence of November 2, 1920, within a regional and national pattern of brutality and oppression designed to keep Blacks “in their place” as low wage workers, prohibited from acquiring the generational wealth necessary for economic advancement and as citizens without the rights and privileges of citizenship.

Phase 2 of the exhibit likewise rested on more than a century of scholarship that focused on voting rights and the use of violence and the law to deny Black citizens the right to vote, to serve on juries, and to hold public office.  Without a seat at the table, Blacks were denied access to the benefits of the increasingly intertwined democracy and capitalism that characterized modern America.

Phase 3 of the exhibit focuses on the 2020 commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Ocoee Massacre.  Although public historians have produced a sizeable body of literature on fairs, celebrations, and commemorations, we must recognize that our analysis of the Ocoee Massacre commemoration is necessarily a “first draft.”  Moreover, we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that members of the exhibit team planned, consulted on, attended, and participated in many of the events highlighted in Phase 3.  With that in mind, there are several interpretive statements that seem appropriate.  First, the broad coverage of the Ocoee Massacre brought the event from the shadows of history into the glare of public scrutiny, prompting state legislative action.  It is now in the regional and national lexicon on democracy and race.  Second, there remains much to be done.  Recognition of the Ocoee Massacre holds out the possibility for public dialogs on race, democracy, and capitalism.  Those difficult conversations have not yet occurred but providing access to the multiple efforts to confront the past during the commemorative year may provide the opening we need for substantive dialogs.