From Ocoee to Obed: Our Decision to Change...for Good.
This June, America heralded the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots. There, hundreds of African-American men, women and children lost their lives to white mobs who burned down several Tulsa city blocks, an area called Black Wall Street that, prior to the unfounded accusation that a black man had assaulted a white woman in an elevator, was an area of prosperity, a reflection of what was possible in America in the 1920s.
Instead, these black citizens were killed, many buried in mass graves.
For years, it was a part of Tulsa’s—and America’s—history, and one that until this year went largely untold.
And while we laud America and current historians for its telling of the Tulsa story after decades of general quiet, we are also grateful for the city of Ocoee, Florida, for telling its own story. Because a year ago, Obed Bicycles wasn’t Obed—it was Ocoee.
As with many companies and bike models within our brand, we often adopt names from the beautiful rivers, mountains and trails of our own Tennessee backyard. It was in this spirit that we named our burgeoning bike brand Ocoee, a nod to the Ocoee River, which flows just east of our Chattanooga headquarters. An old Cherokee Indian name, it is always with reverence and honor to those who came before us that we name a company or bike model.
Not by coincidence, a former resident of the town of Ocoee, Tennessee relocated to Florida and was instrumental in the naming of their town by the same name: Ocoee, Florida was born. Indeed, it was 100 years ago in Ocoee, Florida, that that a black resident of the town of Ocoee, Florida, had the audacity to consider, of all acts… voting. In response, a mob of white men, organized by the Ku Klux Klan, chased black residents from their homes—their response to dissuade these African-American citizens from voting in the 1920 elections. While there are no official records and many of the accounts of what actually happened were passed down through generations of families, historians reported that the deputized mob burned the homes of 25 black residents, two churches and a fraternal lodge. Two white deaths were recorded and an unknown number of black residents dead or missing.
In the end, Julius “July” Perry, a 50-year-old farmer and labor broker, was lynched for daring to encourage fellow black residents to vote. Said Sha’Ron Cooley McWhite, a great-niece to Perry: “He was lynched not because he had done anything wrong, but because he had done everything right.”
As Orlando Sentinel Editor Stephen Hudak wrote in his narrative of the events in Ocoee in the Oct. 30th, 2020 edition of the newspaper in Story of the Ocoee Massacre Finally being Told, 100 Years After it Happened, the Ocoee Massacre, as it’s now known, was, for decades, a piece of history that was whitewashed from the records, initially painted as a race riot, inferring that the black community was a cause of the violence, rather than the victims in it.
As Hudak tells Obed, “When Ocoee was named, it was from a person who was from Tennessee. The city tried to do the right thing with the 100th anniversary of the event, with its own human relations diversity board, which consisted of a wide variety of people. They planned the city’s MLK celebration, they drafted the apology letter, and they planned how to observe the 100th anniversary.”
With this history in mind, we decided proactively to change the name of the company in 2020. As with all naming decisions, it wasn’t taken lightly, and was done to best honor those lost in the Ocoee Massacre. As Obed Bikes, a name taken from a stream that drains part of the Cumberland Plateau due north of our Chattanooga headquarters, we continue as a brand that steeps in the history of our region—but will always pause with reverence and honor those lost in those regrettable parts of our American history.
This week, we celebrate Juneteenth—the commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, when, on June 19, 1865, a Union General rode into Galveston, Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended, and slaves had been freed. We encourage you to read Hudak’s story for a better appreciation of not just our naming change reasoning, but for a greater understanding of our American history. It’s only as we remember the past with understanding and reverence that we can step confidently toward the future.