Remains of Sarah Carrier's house in Rosewood, Florida, claimed to have been taken January 4, 1923
but probably taken in the days following
One of the reasons that knowing history, especially a history that was covered up and buried, is important, is that it helps explain the present day. When questions are raised, and fingers are pointed—by racists and racism apologists—at the black community for their "culpability" in their own lack of progress in the US, those finger-waggers fail to mention the terrorism that has taken place multiple times against prospering black communities.
Yes, I use the word terrorism.
I use it today for the war being waged against us, and it is solidly linked and welded to past practices by racists in an unbroken chain.
I speak today about the anniversary of the massacre in Rosewood, Florida:
On January 1, 1923 a massacre was carried out in the small, predominantly black town of Rosewood in Central Florida. The massacre was instigated by the rumor that a white woman, Fanny Taylor, had been sexually assaulted by a black man in her home in a nearby community. A group of white men, believing this rapist to be a recently escaped convict named Jesse Hunter who was hiding in Rosewood, assembled to capture this man. Prior this event a series of incidents had stirred racial tensions within Rosewood. During the previous winter of 1922 a white school teacher from Perry had been murdered and on New Years Eve of 1922 there was a Ku Klux Klan rally held in Gainesville, located not far away from Rosewood.
In response to the allegation by Taylor, white men began to search for Jesse Hunter, Aaron Carrier and Sam Carter who were believed to be accomplices. Carrier was captured and incarcerated while Carter was lynched. The white mob suspected Aaron's cousin, Sylvester Carrier, a Rosewood resident of harboring the fugitive, Jesse Hunter.
On January 4, 1923 a group of 20 to 30 white men approached the Carrier home and shot the family dog. When Sylvester's mother Sarah came to the porch to confront the mob they shot and killed her. Sylvester defended his home, killing two men and wounding four in the ensuing battle before he too was killed. The remaining survivors fled to the swamps for refuge where many of the African American residents of Rosewood had already retreated, hoping to avoid the rising conflict and increasing racial tension. The next day the white mob burned the Carrier home before joining with a group of 200 men from surrounding towns who had heard erroneously that a black man had killed two white men. As night descended the mob attacked the town, slaughtering animals and burning buildings. An official report claims six blacks killed along with two whites. Other accounts suggest a larger total. At the end of the carnage only two buildings remained standing, a house and the town general store.
This history is far more complicated than this brief summary, particularly because it was covered up and buried, and like all history it is connected to present day racist attitudes toward blacks, and the fears black communities have of white violence.
Follow me below the fold for more.
Nothing is left of Rosewood, save the memories of stories of that day passed on to descendents. The last survivor, Mrs. Robie Mortin, died
in 2010. You can read an interview with her, conducted by historian Dr. Marvin Dunn, published in The Grio:
“I was in third grade,” she once told me. “I could read and write. I remember everything;” like playing in her aunt Sarah Carrier’s yard every Sunday after church, like the plum trees that grew in her yard, like getting apples at Christmas and dancing and playing games on Emancipation Day; and the night the mob burned the town down."...
There are several places you can go these days to learn more of this history. I recommend that you read Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood
, by Michael D'Orso, which was published in 1996.
This account of the destruction of the town of Rosewood, Fla., in 1923 is a significant contribution to American history, the more so because the event was effectively covered up for seven decades. A town with about 150 residents, Rosewood was an all-black community, except for one family. When a white woman in nearby Sumner claimed a black man had assaulted her, the white men of the area spent the next five days in sporadic attacks on Rosewood, shooting black men and driving women and children from the town, which was then burned; the land was later acquired by whites. In many cases the survivors were saved by whites and did not tell their children or grandchildren about what had happened in 1923. In 1982, the son of a survivor, Arnett Doctor, set in motion a chain of events that climaxed in 1994, when the Florida legislature awarded $2 million to the survivors and their descendants. D'Orso (coauthor, The Cost of Courage) has reconstructed the appalling story of Rosewood from sketchy documentation and reticent interviewees.
Right on the heels of the book publication, in 1997, came the film Rosewood. Though critically acclaimed, the drama, directed by John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) starring Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle and Jon Voight was not a commercial success. I don't think general audiences in America were ready to stare this history in the face—and own it. Perhaps now, as more young people join in the protests of #Blacklivesmatter, it will be revisited.
Prior to the publication of the book and the release of the film, in 1993 Florida state House Speaker Bo Johnson (D-Milton) authorized funding a research study and report on Rosewood. The Principal Investigator was Associate Professor Maxine D. Jones (Florida State University), Co-Project Director Professor Larry E. Rivers (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University), and the investigators were Professor David R. Colburn (University of Florida), R. Tom Dye, and Professor William W. Rogers (Florida State University).
The full report is available online, but here is the timeline of events from the report:
A Chronology of Events
Four black men in McClenny are removed from the local jail and lynched for the alleged rape of a white woman.
Two whites and at least five blacks are killed in Ocoee in a dispute over voting rights. The black community of Ocoee is destroyed, 25 homes, 2 churches, and a Masonic Lodge.
A black man in Wauchula is lynched for an alleged attack on a white woman.
A black man in Perry is burned at the stake, accused of the murder of a white school teacher. A black church, school, Masonic Lodge, and meeting hall are burned.
On New Year's Eve a large Ku Klux Klan Parade is held in Gainesville.
Early morning: Fannie Taylor reports an attack by an unidentified black man.
Monday afternoon: Aaron Carrier is apprehended by a posse and is spirited out of the area by Sheriff Walker.
Late afternoon: A posse of white vigilantes apprehend and kill a black man named Sam Carter.
Armed whites begin gathering in Sumner.
Late evening: White vigilantes attack the Carrier house. Two white men are killed, and several others wounded. A black woman, Sarah Carrier, is killed and others inside the Carrier house are either killed or wounded.
Rosewood's black residents flee into the swamps.
One black church is burned, and several unprotected homes.
Lexie Gordon is murdered.
Approximately 200-300 whites from surrounding areas begin to converge on Rosewood.
Mingo Williams is murdered.
Governor Cary Hardee is notified, and Sheriff Walker reports that he fears "no further disorder."
The Sheriff of Alachua County arrives in Rosewood to assist Sheriff Walker.
James Carrier is murdered.
A train evacuates refugees to Gainesville.
A mob of 100-150 whites return to Rosewood and burn the remaining structures.
A black man in Newberry is convicted of stealing cattle. He is removed from his cell and lynched by local whites.
A Grand Jury convenes in Bronson to investigate the Rosewood riot.
The Grand Jury finds "insufficient evidence" to prosecute.
"The Grand Jury finds 'insufficient evidence' to prosecute." Sound familiar?
The difference is that in this case, decades later,reparations were granted by the state after political maneuvering and pressure from black legislators:
TALLAHASSEE — The Senate decided on Friday to grant "equity, justice, fairness and healing" to survivors of the 1923 Rosewood massacre. Tearful relatives cheered "Praise the Lord!" and hugged each other after the Senate voted 26-14 in favor of a $2.1 million reparations bill to help make amends for the state turning its back on the racial violence that wiped out Rosewood, a black hamlet in Levy County.
Final action on the Rosewood bill (CS/HB 591) came on the last scheduled day of the 60-day legislative session. Gov. Lawton Chiles has said he will sign the legislation into law. Rosewood descendant Arnett Doctor of Tampa commended the Legislature for "taking a very bold step." "History has taught us that unless we address the inequities of the past, they are due to repeat themselves," said Doctor, whose great-grandmother was killed during the January 1923 rampage.
The violence at Rosewood, near Cedar Key, erupted when whites came looking for a black man who had allegedly assaulted a married white woman. At least six blacks and two whites were killed, and the town's homes, churches and stores were torched. The claim against the state was based on a lack of action by the Levy County sheriff, Gov. Cary Hardee and other government officials to protect Rosewood residents' lives and property. "Our system of justice failed the citizens of Rosewood," said Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami. "This is your chance to right an atrocious wrong." Jones and Reps. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and Miguel De Grandy, R-Miami, overcame heavy odds to persuade their colleagues to support reparations. The House earlier passed the bill 71-40.
Rosewood isn't the only case of white terrorism against black communities. We must not forget Tulsa, Oklahoma
, and Slocum, Texas
. And it's not just black communities, either. We have just had the 124th anniversary of the December 29, 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre
, one of many outright slaughters of Native Peoples. Asian Americans have a long list
as well. And I know very well the history of the Ponce Massacre
in Puerto Rico in 1937, which can be attributed to the US-appointed racist governor of PR, Blanton Winship. I have close friends who lost family in that debacle.
We have a history steeped in blood. It will not go quietly into the night. Until we as a nation accept and repair that history, the atrocities will continue.
Let us work, together, to do that.