Remembrance and Reconciliation- Commemorating the 1920 Election Day Massacre

Scripture tells us that in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (NIV). And while we may understand the call and the stewardship to be agents of reconciliation in the earth, many of us struggle to find practical, meaningful, and significant ways to fulfill this essential ministry of reconciliation.

Allow me to invite you, your church, your small group, and your family to participate in a truly historic reconciliatory moment. While the City of Orlando is known as “The City Beautiful” and nearby Ocoee is known as “The Center of Good Living”, life has not always been beautiful and the living has not always been good for many of her residents. On November 2-3, 1920, Ocoee was the site of what has been called the worst election day massacre in American history. You can read more details of the Ocoee Massacre here and here. Essentially what happened is that black residents of Ocoee were turned away at the polls as they attempted to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the 1920 presidential election. A second attempt was made and resisted, this time with tempers flaring. Once the black residents were denied a second time, the white residents who had blocked their way called in white supremacists and members of the KKK from surrounding Orange County cities of Apopka and Orlando. The events in Ocoee were now becoming events of Orange County. By the end of the evening, violence against black Ocoee residents broke out, and as many as 53 black residents were murdered, most were forced to flee their homes into the surrounding swamps, and black owned homes, churches, and businesses were burned to the ground. The next morning, November 3, the white mob numbering as high as 100 people, forced the remaining black residents out of southern Ocoee, and from 1920 until 1982 - a period of 62 years! - the once racially diverse Ocoee did not have one black resident. And while black residents have slowly returned to Ocoee since 1982, the city did not acknowledge the events until only 2 years ago…98 years too late.

This brings us to the historic cultural moment before us and to a significant moment for the church to take her place as ambassadors of reconciliation. In a few short weeks, we will find ourselves having a presidential election on the 100th anniversary, to the day, of the Ocoee Election Day Massacre. And the City of Ocoee and her churches will commemorate these horrific events (find brochure here) by formally addressing them publicly for the first time. And future generations of Floridians will know our story and how to live reconciled to one another, as on June 23, 2020 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into legislation House Bill 1213 (2020) which directs that the events of the Ocoee Election Massacre (and likely these events of the 100th commemoration) will be required instruction in Florida public schools. Join us as we take our city through a four day journey where we will “Tell the Story” on Day 1, “Honor their Memory” on Day 2, “Heal the Wound” on Day 3, and offer “Hope for the Future” on Day 4. This somber yet hope-filled journey of reconciliation will follow the schedule below. Please consider adding your faith, adding your voice, and adding your presence as we:

“Tell  the Ocoee Story”, November 1, 2020, 2 - 4pm - This will be an educational symposium in which local historians will tell the entire unvarnished story of the events of the Ocoee Election Day Massacre. It is said that unless a people understands its history, it is doomed to repeat it. If we are to make certain that our neighbors are never again treated so horrifically, we need to understand how it happened in the first place.

“Honor the Memory”, November 4, 2020, 6 - 7:40pm - This evening has been given to the church, by the city. We anticipate a change in the spiritual environment of Central Florida, if not all of Florida, as we gather together. This evening will include a time of prayer and acknowledgement. We will read aloud the names of each of the 249 residents who were forced out of their homes in Ocoee. We will conduct a candlelight walk around an historically significant route as local church bells toll 100 times…mourning the 100 years that the church and the city did not publicly address these horrors. We will then gather outside to sing Amazing Grace, while lighting a candle to honor each of the 53 people whose murder has been kept in the dark for too long.

“Heal the Wound”, November 6, 2020, 7 - 8:30pm - The Alliance for Truth and Justice will conduct an inter faith service focused on healing.

“Hope for the Future”, November 8, 2020, 4 - 6:30pm - This culminating event will help chart the course for a redemptive and united future in our community. Pastor Brett Fuller (read his bio here), pastor of Grace Covenant Church in Chantilly, VA (website here) and chaplain of the NFL’s Washington Football Team, will be the keynote speaker. Tamara Monk will sing an original song from Every Nation Music, called “Let Justice Roll”.

The City of Ocoee will formally issue an apology for the events of the Ocoee Election Massacre. And a state historical marker of commemoration will be dedicated and put in place. You and your church are invited to all or any of the events above. If you are unable to attend all of the events, we are asking the church to specifically rally to the events on November 4 and November 8.

You and I, as followers of Christ, have an opportunity to exercise our God-given ministry of reconciliation. If you have been looking for an opportunity to make a long lasting change of an historic nature in the area of racial reconciliation, this is our moment.

Please join us at The Lakeshore Center, for all events.
Thank you for caring well for our city.

*The event for 2021 will be held on November 7, 2021, 6pm-8:30pm at the Lakeshore Center. 

Keith Tower 
Pastor, HighPoint Church
Chaplain, Ocoee Police Department

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