The Rosewood Massacre

350_160Since this place called America came into existence, there have been many unspeakable acts of terror inflicted on non white folk, but of course, those people denied that it happened. These crimes were particularly harsh on black people and their communities – that is if you call the places where they lived communities! History report of such violent acts of destruction in Tulsa (Black Wall Street) in 1921 and Philadelphia (MOVE) as recent as the 1980s as well as many places during segregation and slavery! Not to forget the horrible racist founded the KKK!

However, there is the Rosewood massacre that was a violent, racially motivated massacre of blacks and destruction of a black town that took place during the first week of January 1923 in rural Levy County, Florida. At least six blacks and two whites were killed, and the town of Rosewood was abandoned and destroyed in what contemporary news reports characterized as a race riot. Racial disturbances were common during the early 20th century in the United States, reflecting the nation’s rapid social changes. Florida had an especially high number of lynchings of black males in the years before the massacre, including a well-publicized incident in December 1922.

Prior to the massacre, the town of Rosewood had been a quiet, primarily black, self-sufficient whistle stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway. As was usually the case the trouble began when white men from several nearby towns lynched a black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a black drifter.

When the town’s black citizens rallied together to defend themselves against further attacks, a mob of several hundred whites combed the countryside hunting for black people, and burned almost every structure in Rosewood. Survivors from the town hid for several days in nearby swamps until they were evacuated by train and car to larger towns. Although state and local authorities were aware of the violence, no arrests were made for what happened in Rosewood. The town was abandoned by its former black residents; none ever moved back.

Although the rioting was widely reported around the United States at the time, few official records documented the event. Survivors, their descendants, and the perpetrators remained silent about Rosewood for decades. Sixty years after the rioting, the story of Rosewood was revived in major media when several journalists covered it in the early 1980s. Survivors and their descendants organized to sue the state for having failed to protect Rosewood’s black community.

In 1993, the Florida Legislature commissioned a report on the massacre. As a result of the findings, Florida became the first U.S. state to compensate survivors and their descendants for damages incurred because of racial violence. The incident was the subject of a 1997 feature film directed by John Singleton. In 2004, the state designated the site of Rosewood as a Florida Heritage Landmark. Officially, the recorded death toll of the first week of January 1923 was six blacks and two whites. Historians disagree about this number.

Some survivors’ stories claim there may have been up to 27 black residents killed, and assert that newspapers did not report the total number of white deaths. Minnie Lee Langley, who was in the Carrier house siege, recalls that she stepped over many white bodies on the porch when she left the house. Several eyewitnesses claim to have seen a mass grave filled with black people; one remembers a plow brought from Cedar Key that covered 26 bodies. Others claimed as many as 150 people were killed.

However, by the time authorities investigated these claims, most of the witnesses were dead, or too elderly and infirm to lead them to a site to confirm the stories. The State of Florida declared Rosewood a Florida Heritage Landmark in 2004 and subsequently erected a historical marker on State Road 24 that names the victims and describes the community’s destruction. Scattered structures remain within the community, including a church, a business, and a few homes, notably John Wright’s home. Robie Mortin, the last survivor, died on June 12, 2010, at age 94 after a brief illness.

Rosewood descendants formed the Rosewood Heritage Foundation and the Real Rosewood Foundation to educate people in Florida and all over the world. The Rosewood Heritage Foundation created a traveling exhibit that tours internationally to share the history of Rosewood and the attacks; a permanent display is housed in the library of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. The Real Rosewood Foundation presents a variety of humanitarian awards to people in Central Florida who help preserve Rosewood’s history. The organization also recognized Rosewood residents who protected blacks during the attacks by presenting an Unsung Heroes Award to the descendants of Sheriff Robert Walker, John Bryce, and William Bryce.

The moral of the story black people must remember and tell their stories of tragedy and terror. Regardless of the struggle to tell the stories of such terror; they must be told to empower future generation and to prove the wretchedness of the savages that committed the crimes over the years because a lot of people don’t want to hear about this kind of history or truth. White people, particularly, don’t relate to the sins of their fathers, or just deny it happened. Keep it alive, keep telling the sad, horrible stories, black people need the stories of Rosewood, and all the others need to be told and remembered! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

About Thought Provoking Perspectives

Welcome to Thought Provoking Perspectives a blog designed to be a potent source of empowering knowledge to broaden the information base with those who share my passion for the written word and the empowerment of thought. View all posts by Thought Provoking Perspectives

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