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The Legacy of Black Press in the Region

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Image: Downtown Ocoee 1920, ocoee.org

95 years ago, Ocoee was the site of a massacre.

“RACE TROUBLE AT OCOEE CLAIMS 2 WHITE VICTIMS,” reads part of a headline from the Orlando Morning Sentinel’s Nov. 3, 1920 edition.

Newspapers reported that a black man named Mose Norman became enraged when he was told he couldn’t vote because he didn’t pay his poll tax. Media accounts said he stormed the polling place with a group of angry black men, starting a massive race riot. 60 people, most of them black, were killed. Norman, meanwhile, allegedly hid in the home of a friend, who was later lynched in downtown Orlando for helping him.

It wasn’t until 20 years later, when Zora Neale Hurston wrote her account of the Ocoee Massacre, that another side of the story came out – she wrote that Norman had been taking a tally of black men refused the right to vote at the polls. He infuriated the town’s white residents, who gathered a mob to threaten him. Norman allegedly fled, and when he couldn’t be found, his friend was arrested and hanged instead.

That version of events of the Ocoee Massacre wasn’t published until 1989, when Essence magazine ran Hurston’s story. That’s because there was no black news outlet in the Orlando area at the time.

Today newsrooms are more diverse than ever, but some say the mainstream media still routinely gets it wrong when it comes to stories about black communities. This week, Orlando Weekly explores the legacy of the black press in the region and talks to members of the region’s black press about thoughts on the current media landscape. Is the black press still a vital part of our culture? Is it still needed? Does it give the world something you can’t find in typical media outlets?



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