DeSantis's War on "Woke" Evokes Darkest Parts of Florida's HistoryRoundup
tags: racism, Florida, African American history, lynching, KKK, voting rights, culture war, Ku Klux Klan, Ron DeSantis, Ocoee Massacre
Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African American studies at Emory University and the author of The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s war on “wokeism,” often minimized as a culture war or taking on the establishment to build his conservative brand, is actually a war on the marginalized. Sensing that they don’t have the power to fight back, he tramples the Constitution, state law or whatever gets in his way. The targeting is clear. DeSantis’s own attorney defined “woke” as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”
By denying the existence of systemic injustice, DeSantis is placing himself in a long, sordid Florida history that has targeted the civil rights of African Americans in the Sunshine State. It is a history scarred by lynching, rigged trials, massive disfranchisement, instilling fear and showcasing the systemic assault on the rule of law.
We don’t have to go as far back as slavery to detail the degradation. Just a little over 100 years ago, in 1920, after the “war to make the world safe for democracy,” Florida branches of the NAACP and other organizations set out to help the democracy that soldiers had fought and died for in World War I become realized. The 19th Amendment had just been passed and the NAACP launched a major voter registration drive aimed at African American women.
Ocoee, a few miles from Orlando, became the testing ground for the theory that Black women were included as beneficiaries of the new constitutional amendment. On Election Day, despite a recent massive show of force by the Ku Klux Klan, Black people lined up to vote in Ocoee. That act of citizenship was met with widespread violence, intimidation at the polls, lynchings and the burning of African Americans’ homes, businesses and churches.
The white domestic terrorism removed virtually all Black people from the town for the next 50 years. And, despite the carnage, the perpetrators faced no consequences.
Such anti-Black violence was not an aberration for Florida. Indeed, the state had the highest number of lynchings of African Americans per capita.