This is the first in an occassional series of features about Public Affairs Reporting alumni doing great work in the journalism or communication fields.
For 100 years, the story of the Ocoee Massacre remained largely untold.
But thanks to the efforts of a University of Illinois Springfield Public Affairs Reporting graduate and her team at WFTV Channel 9 in Orlando, the truth of what happened to Black residents in Ocoee (a suburb of Orlando) on Election Day 1920 is being revealed to a new generation of people in Florida and beyond.
Daralene Jones, a 2003 PAR graduate and an investigative reporter at WFTV, was the executive producer of an hour-long documentary about what has been called the “bloodiest day in American political history.”
The program premiered on the Orlando TV station on Nov. 1, a day before the 100-year anniversary of the massacre.
It was Nov. 2, 1920, when Black residents headed to the polls to vote in the presidential election between Warren Harding and James Cox.
White residents, including members of the Ku Klux Klan, however, were determined to suppress the Black vote and violently attacked Black-owned businesses and neighborhoods while killing an untold number of Black residents. Ocoee essentially became an all-white town for the next several decades. The story behind the horror of that day had remained mostly whitewashed from the area’s history.
The entire story can be seen in the excellent documentary. More information can be found at wftv.com/ocoee.
I caught up with Daralene on Zoom recently to talk about the project. Here are some clips from our discussion.
- On her career journey after graduating from UIS and the background of the Ocoee Massacre.
- On the reluctance in Ocoee to recognize the massacre that happened 100 years ago.
- On the current state of race relations in Ocoee, 100 years after the Election Day massacre.
- On the reaction in and around Ocoee after the WFTV documentary about the Ocoee Massacre aired on Nov. 1, 2020.
- On the unique effort for a local television newsroom to produce a documentary.
Jason Piscia is an assistant professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield, who came to UIS following a 21-year career at The State Journal-Register (SJ-R).
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