Timeline

1928

September 16th, 1928

Okeechobee Hurricane Kills Thousands of Black Farm Workers in Florida

On September 16, 1928, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 miles per hour made landfall in Palm Beach County, Florida. The hurricane destroyed a levee that protected a number of small farming communities from the waters of Lake Okeechobee. Most of the residents of these low-lying communities were black migrant farm workers. When the levee was destroyed, water from Lake Okeechobee rushed into these communities, killing thousands.

After the hurricane, black survivors were forced to recover the bodies of those killed. The officials in charge of the recovery effort ordered that food would be provided only to those who worked and some who refused to work were shot. The bodies of white storm victims were buried in coffins in local cemeteries, but local officials refused to provide coffins or proper burials for black victims.

Instead, the bodies of many black victims were stacked in piles by the side of the roads doused in fuel oil, and burned. Authorities bulldozed the bodies of 674 black victims into a mass grave in West Palm Beach. The mass grave was not marked and the site was later sold for private industrial use; it later was used as a garbage dump, a slaughterhouse, and a sewage treatment plant. The city of West Palm Beach did not purchase the land until 2000. In 2008, on the 80th anniversary of the storm, a plaque and historical marker was erected at the mass grave site.