Indoctrinate this, part 2: Would DeSantis and Latvala fire me for teaching this lesson on the state-mandated 1920 Ocoee pogrom standard?
A case study in the performative stupidity of your state government and its fake, impotent, embarrassing outrage at real history.
Part 1: The voices of the Great Migration laugh at Richard Corcoran — A grifter who can't make finalist in a university president search rigged for him is no match for the honest, competitive study of America, which is an unpoliceable classroom without walls.
This is part 2 — in which I “teach” a lesson about the Ocoee racial pogrom of 1920. The Florida Legislature recently required the state education system to “teach” it. But I can’t find the actual standard, now long overdue, anywhere.
A new 2020 law requires the task force to recommend to state education leaders by March 1 how to teach the massacre.
But in a state where fewer than 20% of the teachers are Black, and lots of new teachers enter classrooms each year, many teachers are unaware of these events or unsure sure how to tackle tough subjects of violence and racial discrimination.
There may not be a standard yet because Ron DeSantis is unilaterally making it illegal to teach it. What follows is my case study for testing that.
Hopefully, DeSantis and Corcoran and Chris Latvala will tell me if this is fireable so this becomes a resource for teachers. I’m not doing formal documentation of every quote here in this space; but they’re all footnoted precisely in my book — Age of Barbarity: the Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida.
Also, the great book of the 1920 Election, a book that literally changed my understanding of my country, is Emancipation Betrayed by Paul Ortiz — one of the most important books about Florida ever written. He is the true expert of the 1920 Election.
Dear class, today we are going to discuss the Ocoee pogrom, which killed or expelled virtually the entire black population of this little town near Orlando because that black population attempted to vote on the presidential Election Day of 1920.
Here’s the outcome of the Ocoee pogrom demographically:
Ocoee’s purged black population culminated the destruction of a 1920 statewide civil rights/voting registration drive led by black women like Mary McLeod Bethune during the first presidential election of women’s suffrage. Mary McLeod Bethune is about to represent woke Florida in statuary hall in Congress.
But in 1920, white people and power crushed her ambition for representative government and legitimate political power with systematic killing and destruction. They did this explicitly to maintain “white supremacy” against black participation in the democratic process and the 1920 presidential election. That’s literally the reason white people gave for doing it — that exact phrase, “white supremacy.” I’ll show you.
The DeSantis disclaimer and the Latvala Corollary of white awesomeness
But first … I need to say the DeSantis disclaimer. I am not teaching you critical race theory. I do not know what that is. But this is not that. OK?
Also, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran says I “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
That gibberish sentence that would get Corcoran a 2, maybe, on an AP English test. I have no idea what “define American history” means. It’s like saying “define existence.”
But, let me just declare, because I have a family to feed: Crushing a statewide voter drive with systemic violence against women and annihilating a town’s black population because it tried to vote is NOT “something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Pay no attention to my wink; it’s dusty in here because of the shitty air ventilation.
Also, I need to quote and address the Chris Latvala Corollary to all these rules: “There is a way to teach it without indoctrinating kids about how bad white people are.” That’s the position of state Rep. Chris Latvala, chairman of the House Education & Employment Committee, on history.
I am not sure what “it” is; so let me just say: White people are awesome. We have always been awesome. Without us, you would not have skinny jeans or emo music or square dancing or hipsters — or so I understand from popular American history. So as you listen to this, remember: it doesn’t mean white people are not awesome. We are. Always have been. OK. Got it?
Even with all that disclaiming, I’m not sure if the Florida powers-that-be will fire me for not teaching Ocoee or for teaching it. Such is the life of an educator in America’s worst designed, worst led, most corrupt, most incoherent, and most stupidly performative state education system.
The “choice” to learn
But, dear students, Ocoee and 1920 are important on their own merits — important to each of you and fundamental to how each of you came to be in this moment and in this classroom in front of this strange fake symbol of authority — me, your teacher.
So I’m going to risk the DeSantis whack-a-mole to try to help you understand yourself and your relation to your state and country a little better today. You may ignore it; or it may affect your life in a meaningful way. It affected my life profoundly to learn this — because I let it. You deserve the same choice.
Florida is a “choice” state, right?
Now, onto this actual state-mandated Ocoee standard, which “must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events” — and is just a tiny horrid sliver of the undistorted objective reality of American and Florida history.
Ok, perhaps “horrid” isn’t an “objective” word. You tell me when we’re done if you find it accurate.
Ocoee happened — first and foremost — because America gave women the right to vote on Aug. 18, 1920. Black women in Florida like Mary McLeod Bethune leapt at the opportunity and launched a voter drive that far outpaced registration for white women. This is what she told a group of black ministers and activists:
Use your minds, but keep your lips closed. Eat your bread without butter, but pay your poll tax! Nobody ever told me to pay my poll tax. My dollar is always there on time! Do not be afraid of the Klan. Quit running. Hold your head up high. Look every man straight in the eye and make no apology to anyone because of race or color. When you see a burning cross, remember the Son of God who bore the heaviest.
Palatka, Florida — in Putnam County — was the site of Bethune’s first school and her first known letter (to Booker T. Washington in 1902). By 1920, she had moved on to Daytona Beach and emerged as the Mary McLeod Bethune we know today. But she maintained close contact with Palatka and friends there.
And in 1920, Palatka provides a good example of how successful the black women’s voter drive became.
Female voter registration began in Putnam on Sept. 6, 1920. Only five white women added themselves to the voter rolls in the first week. The Palatka Times-Herald ran an article headlined: “Putnam County Women Show Little Interest In Registrations.” The Times-Herald got it very wrong.
And its tone quickly changed from dismissiveness to something like panic—and contempt—as the scale of black registration began to stealthily reveal itself. On Oct. 22, the Times-Herald printed this article on its front page. Not the part in italics.
School of Instruction White Women Voters
The Political Science Department of the Woman’s Club has made arrangements to conduct a series of meetings between now and the general election, November 2, whereby the white women of the city and county may be instructed in voting. These meetings are not to be conducted for club members only, but for every white woman who realizes the necessity for exercising the franchise in an intelligent manner…
…With “undesirables” rushing to the registration office to register, it behooves our good men and women, as a protective and defensive measure, to also qualify for participation in the coming election. Good government depends upon the character of those who avail themselves of the privilege of suffrage. Surely the best element of our people will not disappoint us this time.
Indeed, the NAACP and black activists like Mary McLeod Bethune were kicking white women’s asses in registration. That means— at its core— that they were kicking their asses in the pursuit of power. They had come to see the Florida effort as a means to challenge one-party rule in Florida and eventually the south. Black Floridians came to see their movement as fundamental to “creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
That’s precisely why white power crushed it.
Virtually all of the black political activity channeled itself toward support of the Republican party and its eventual presidential nominee Warren Harding. The few white Republicans in Florida reacted ambivalently—at best—to this new surge of support from black voters and activists. But that didn’t matter much. Blacks wanted to create a block of votes that could influence Florida’s elections. More than that, many black leaders fully expected vote suppression and violence, and they hoped to use Florida as a test case for enforcing the voting rights provisions of section two of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If registered black voters were denied their vote through violence or skullduggery, the 14th amendment could reduce Florida’s representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. So it wasn’t just a matter of affecting the outcome of an election through actual voting. The 1920 voter drive could succeed simply if blacks attempted to cast ballots and were turned away.
White power’s critical race theory
White Democrats in Florida responded to the drive of the “undesirables” with both “schools of instruction for white women voters” — and truly vicious violence and repression.
This was primarily administered through newly established Ku Klux Klan groups, which served as essentially a paramilitary arm of the party and state power. The Ku Klux Klan and other Florida power centers were quite clear about why they sought to violently smash the voting power of black women (and men) across Florida. They did so, they declared, in order “to maintain white supremacy and to safe guard our women and children.”
They also, one might say, used a critical race theory of history to enhance their threats and violence and intimidation.
On October 28, 1920, just a few days before Election Day, the Grand Master of the Florida Ku Klux Klan warned the secretary of Republican campaign committee not to continue organizing and registering blacks of Orlando — which is near Ocoee. Check out his critical race theory of American history.
If you are familiar with the history of the days of reconstruction…you will recall that the Scalawags of the north, and the Republicans of the south proceeded very much the same as you are proceeding, to instill into the negro the ideal of social equality. You will also remember that these things forced the loyal citizens of the south to organize clans of determined men, who pledge themselves to maintain white supremacy and to safe guard our women and children.
And now if you are a scholar, you know that history repeats itself, and that he who resorts to your kind of a game is handling edged tools. We shall always enjoy WHITE SUPREMACY in this country and he who interferes must face the consequences.
The all caps is his. Yeah, they all-capped back then, too, when they got all worked up about FREEDOM! Twitter and chain emails to your batty uncles are new only in their digitalization.
A movement crushed
The Ku Klux Klan and white Florida power succeeded. White supremacy was maintained through firefights and bombings and abductions and beatings and murders that preceded Election Day, from Miami to Jacksonville to Tallahassee to Pensacola. It was essentially civil war, with a large but uncertain body count
Then came Election Day and Ocoee.
In 2019, the Florida Legislature instructed the state Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to study and report on the specifics of the Ocoee pogrom itself. It’s an excellent report. I’m assigning it to you, class, to read.
I’m taking a risk in doing that because this official state report on Ocoee-specific violence does not:
1) Explicitly reject critical race theory, whatever that is.
2) Declare that the Ocoee pogrom is not “something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
3) Remind us that “white people are awesome,” as dictated by the Latvala Corollary, although presumably he voted to commission the report.
It does say:
On the day of the general election, November 2, 1920, Mose Norman went to the polls to vote but was told that he was not permitted to do so because he had not paid his poll tax. Norman left the polling area and traveled to Orlando to meet with attorney and former judge John Cheney (also the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1920), who recommended that he return to the polling place in Precinct 10 and record the names of anyone who was not permitted to vote and the names of the polling officials who were denying anyone the right to vote.
This attention to record-keeping is important because of the NAACP’s intent to use suppression evidence for its 14th amendment challenge. The state report does not have any of that larger strategic context of 1920 and the statewide black voter movement. Perhaps that was too critical race theory-ish and needed to be suppressed. Who knows? Otherwise, it’s very good.
“the impulse of the primitive and even savage man”
The OPPAGA report on Ocoee gives a concise account in just a few paragraphs of how the pogrom itself happened.
The dynamics are quite similar to the more famous Rosewood (1923) pogrom from a few years later: smaller scale confrontation that exploded later into systemic, planned, wanton destruction by white mobs.
The Rosewood excuse was for this violence was sex, not politics. We’ll do the full Rosewood some other time, when it becomes a “standard.” But give a read to this weak mea culpa from the Gainesville Sun editor Robert Wyche Davis, who helped incite Rosewood, after he learned the “rape” pretext of his incitement was flimsy at best and a report that white police had been killed by blacks was completely full of shit.
By the time Davis wrote this, Rosewood was ashes and mass death because white people could not be expected to control themselves. (Sorry, class, I know I’m not allowed to say “full of shit” because it’s obscene. Don’t tell on me, please.)
When the horrible affair at Rosewood threw us all into a fever of excitement, this editor, from information given him, wrote that the unspeakable crime of rape, law or no law, would always, whether in the South or the North, be speedily avenged. We said that, whether justified or not, the impulse of the men of this day, like the impulse of the primitive and even savage man, is to strike quickly in avenging a criminal assault upon an innocent woman. We were speaking, not of a theory but of a condition. When we came to learn the facts about the Rosewood butchery we condemned it in the strongest words we could.
Sex and politics are the two great excuses that white critical race theory has always applied to justify state-sanctioned collective racial violence. Here’s the politics excuse playing out in Ocoee, as described in the OPPAGA report.
When Mose Norman returned to the polling place, he was again denied the opportunity to vote. There are conflicting reports regarding what happened with Norman related to this second trip to the polls. In one account, the local constable examined a shotgun in Norman’s car, took the shotgun from him, and sent him on his way. In another account, a group of white residents searched his car, found the shotgun under a seat, and assaulted Norman when he returned to his car; he managed to escape on foot. Both accounts agree that Norman went to the home of July Perry before fleeing Ocoee later that day.
Later in the day, some white Ocoee residents formed a posse and were deputized by Orange County Sheriff Deputy Clyde Pounds. The posse, led by Ocoee resident Sam Salisbury, a former Army colonel and former Orlando Chief of Police, was charged with arresting July Perry and Mose Norman. Norman had already fled Ocoee. In the process of attempting to arrest Perry, who was at home with his wife and daughter, several posse members were wounded (including Sam Salisbury), and two were killed (Leo R. Borgard and Elmer McDaniels). Perry and his 19-year-old daughter, Caretha, were also wounded by gunfire during this confrontation.
The posse retreated from Perry’s house and requested assistance from Orlando and other areas in Orange County. Perry and his wife left the house during this lull. After additional people and Orange County Sheriff Frank Gordon arrived, the posse captured Perry’s daughter in the house. July Perry was captured in a sugarcane patch near his house and transported to a hospital in Orlando to treat his gunshot wounds. After leaving the hospital, Perry, in the custody of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, was taken by a white mob, lynched by hanging, and shot. Estelle Perry and Caretha Perry were transported by Orange County sheriff’s deputies to the county jail in Tampa, reportedly for safekeeping and to prevent further violence.
After the posse captured July Perry and his family, a mob set fire to all of the African-American buildings in the northern (Methodist) African-American area of Ocoee throughout the night, as late as 4:45 A.M. on November 3, 1920. The fire destroyed more than 20 houses, two churches, and one fraternal lodge.
There is a wide range in the reported number of African Americans killed during this violence. The lowest number of reported African Americans killed was 3, including July Perry, and the highest number was close to 60. A Methodist pastor, Reverend J. A. Long, and a Baptist minister, Reverend H. K. Hill, both from Orlando, reported that they had heard of 35 African-American deaths in Ocoee as a result of the fires and shootings. While state death certificates are incomplete for this period, there are some records of deaths. One report noted that five new graves were dug in the African-American cemetery days after the incident. Additionally, undertaker memoranda from the evening of November 2 reported that three African Americans who had been burned to death in their home were buried in one grave.
The NAACP’s statewide Election Day death toll estimates ranged from 30 to 60, including Ocoee. But it’s always difficult to get reliable figures from America’s countless racial pogroms. The death estimates for the entire, first suffragette American presidential campaign of 1920 are much higher.
White people, not so bad
The Orlando Sentinel reported on Nov. 13, 1920 that the United Confederate Veterans changed the timing of their Orlando convention so they could visit Ocoee’s aftermath and bask in the Election Day carnage—to bask in victory.
Here’s what that victory looked like, just in Ocoee, according to OPPAGA.
It is important, however, students, to remember the Latvala Corollary and to avoid critical race theory, whatever that is, and to teach you how to think — not what to think.
Thus, I have an assignment for you based on this picture:
Compare and contrast the awesomeness and critical race theories of the white Confederate Democrats of 1920 who crushed Florida’s voting drive and wiped out Ocoee’s black population with the awesomeness and critical race theories of the white Confederate Republicans who stormed the U.S Capitol in 2021.
How are they alike? How are they different?
Is the white Republican refusal to investigate and account for their lawless, police-brutalizing lynch mob an example of the Latvala Corollary in action? What do you say, Chris? Is that a fireable assignment? Be man enough to say yes or no.
White people’s take on the Latvala Corollary in 1920
Almost miraculously, in the weeks following Ocoee and Election Day — which Harding won without needing Florida — the NAACP and James Weldon Johnson managed to force a late December 1920 hearing before the Census Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. They were challenging the disenfranchisement of blacks throughout the South, but especially in Florida.
The NAACP’s presentation, led by Johnson and Walter White, brought almost naively meticulous documentation of what happened in Florida. White, who could pass as white, had personally traveled to Ocoee, as he had during the nationwide Red Summer pogroms of 1919, to investigate.
I don't know for certain if Mose Norman’s efforts to get the suppression documented — which provided the pretext for the Ocoee pogrom — made it into the presentation. But it probably did.
Johnson told the committee:
This is not merely a question of the Negro, by any means. It is a question of Republican Government and of the fundamentals of American democracy…
We put the matter before you. Some of the Members have thought it was an irrelevant matter, but I say it is fundamental; it is the very root of Republican government, and it is a question which is either going to come to this Congress or to some other Congress in the future, and with increasing force every time it comes up, and it seems to me it is better to pass on the question fairly and squarely and justly to-day and not wait until some unknown tomorrow.
But Johnson and company communicated these details to a five-man committee consisting of members from Louisiana, Georgia, Texas, and Missouri. According to the Congressional record, the Missouri congressman, Jacob Milligan, repeatedly used the word “nigger” during the hearings, which, of course went nowhere.
As a bizarre and decadent footnote to the hearing, James Weldon Johnson later accused the congressman of inserting “nigger” into the Congressional record as a way of appearing more racially antagonistic to their white constituents back home. They never used the word, Johnson claimed in an official NAACP statement reported in the Chicago Defender. They just wanted to make themselves look tougher after the fact.
Note the part in italics below, which, of course, is a direct reference to Mary McLeod Bethune and her fellow leaders of the crushed movement. Today, Florida’s powers-that-be are honoring Bethune with a safe, inanimate statue. But they dishonor her daily with their pathetic fear of memorializing what and who she challenged — and why she was dangerous.
These southern congressmen on the census committee write the word ‘nigger’ in the Congressional Record, although they did not dare use that term when speaking face to face with officers of this association.
They permit their proof sheets to go back to the printer, using the word ‘nigger,’ thus pretending to their folks at home that they dared use this insulting word to the Colored witnesses. The Southerner pretends to be unable to pronounce the word Negro, and what he says is this: ‘Niggrah,’ which, of course, disarms any objection, inasmuch as it becomes a mere matter of pronunciation. Presumably, he is trying to say ‘Negro’.
Thus Larsen of Georgia and Milligan of Missouri continually use the words “nigger women” in the printed report of the hearing, when they did not dare use it in the speech. If they had used theses insulting terms to the Colored men who faced them there would have been something else in the Record.
Did you catch that, Chris Latvala?
The white people’s political representatives of 1920 wanted to “indoctrinate” their white voting publics with a fake idea that they verbally abused fellow black citizens reporting on a pogrom in the well of House of Representatives.
They weren’t content with “how bad white people are” in 1920. They wanted their white voting publics to think they were worse.
And they altered historical government documents with the word “nigger” to do the indoctrinating.
Now, are you going to fire me for teaching you that?