Scholarships sought for Ocoee Massacre descendants

A state senator is seeking to expand a scholarship program set up more than 25 years ago because of a massacre in Rosewood to include people whose families were directly affected by the racially motivated 1920 Ocoee Election Day riot in Central Florida.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, said Wednesday he’s been in talks with House and Senate Republican leaders to expand the Rosewood Family Scholarship, which offers up to $6,100 a year to students descended from victims of the January 1923 massacre in the predominantly black Levy County community.

"This will be the second time in the history of this country, I believe, that a state legislature will pass a measure like this," Bracy told reporters at the Capitol. "I am very hopeful. The conversations have been very positive with the (Senate) president and the (House) speaker, and I believe this is the year to do it."

Along with making descendants of the people harmed by the Ocoee riot eligible for the scholarship program, Bracy hopes to increase the pot of money for the scholarships.

The approach is a compromise from what Bracy believes is owed the families victimized in the Ocoee riot, which happened after Mose Norman, an African-American unable to vote for failure to pay a poll tax, was seen recording names of others who had not been permitted to vote in his precinct.

Black residents were killed in the riot, and others fled the community as homes, churches and a fraternal lodge were destroyed.

"I’m not under the illusion that people will think this is not enough," Bracy said. "But, I think that considering the makeup of the Legislature, considering the climate, considering COVID and how it’s hurt our budget, the fact that we are seriously negotiating this, I think, is a step forward."

Bracy is pushing to include the proposal in the process of crafting a state budget, rather than seeking approval in a separate bill.

Last year, Bracy led a successful effort to require public-school students learn about the Ocoee riot, similar to a requirement for teaching about the Holocaust.

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When he initially proposed the 2020 legislation, Bracy sought $150,000 per Ocoee victim, a funding level modeled, in part, on a 1994 decision by the Legislature to compensate African-American families because of the Rosewood Massacre.

In November 2018, the Ocoee City Commission issued a proclamation saying that "the historical record clearly shows that African-America residents of West Orange County in and around what later became the city of Ocoee were grievously denied their civil rights, their property, and their very lives in a series of unlawful acts perpetrated by a white mob and governmental officials on Nov. 2, 1920, and the following weeks simply because they tried to vote, as any eligible citizens should be able to do."

The Ocoee proclamation noted that no African-Americans lived in the city for the next six decades, resulting in the area being referred to as a "sundown city." Sundown cities were communities where Blacks were expected to avoid after sundown.

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