Black residents of Rosewood, Florida fall victim to the increasing racial hostilities that plagued America in the early 1900s in a week-long siege against the town.
Like many post World War I cities and towns across America in the early 1900s, Rosewood, Florida was a small community awash with racial tensions. On January 1, 1923, tensions exploded and Rosewood joined cities such as Tulsa, Chicago, and St. Louis as mobs attacked the residents of Rosewood and burned their homes to the ground.
Racial Relationships in the 1900s
Social unrest plagued many townships and cities in both the North and the South right after the first World War. Racial hostilities rose as many blacks migrated to the North to escape the rising violence in the South. The revival of the new Ku Klux Klan in 1915, the increasing incidents of lynchings, and the unprecedented attacks of violence against entire communities of blacks drove people away from the South in large numbers.
This migration created a curious effect. Southern whites were initially glad to see blacks leave; however, soon came to the realization that this exodus not only created a lack of labor force in their communities, but Southerners also worried that the information Northern blacks sent to their family members still living in the South would create unrest in those Southern regions. Racial stereotypes permeated both the North and the South, and the belief that blacks were lazy, mentally inferior, immoral, and criminal allowed some whites to treat blacks in inhumane ways.
The Rosewood Massacre
Such was the atmosphere that existed in Rosewood on that cold winter’s day in 1923. A small community of predominantly black residents, Rosewood, Florida was a small township located just outside of Cedar Key in Levy County.
Many of the whites and blacks worked together in nearby Sumner, a neighboring town, at the saw mill. Blacks and whites coexisted though racial tensions directly prior to the Rosewood incident were high, sparked by an attack on a black community in Ocoee, Florida when two black citizens attempted to vote, 47 lynchings that had occurred in the state, and an attack on the black community of Perry, Florida when a black man was accused of murdering a white school teacher. Though the alleged suspect was captured, furious whites turned their anger towards the rest of the black community, burning their church, amusement hall, school, and several homes.
A month after the incident in Perry, a white woman in Rosewood, Fannie Taylor, accused a black man of sexually assaulting her. Tensions were already high; this had the effect of a match lit to a torch. What began as a search for alleged suspect, Jesse Hunter, escaped convict, instead led to a week-long siege against the residents of Rosewood.
Police believed that two men, Sam Carter and Aaron Carrier, had aided this suspect in escaping. After lynching Sam Carter and jailing Aaron Carrier, police, along with a group of 20 to 30 other men, surrounded the house of Carrier’s cousin, Sylvester. It is not known how many people were in the Carrier house that night, though reports say that a number of the inhabitants were children. The siege on the Carrier house culminated in a shoot-out. Two white men and two residents in the Carrier house died.
By the next night, the mob had swelled to over 200 white townspeople. As they invaded this small hamlet, frightened blacks fled their homes to hide in the cold, damp swamps. Others, like black residents Mingo Green and Lexie Gordon, were shot and killed as they fled their homes. The mob, infuriated by the killings of two white men in the siege on the Carrier home, converged on the town, torching buildings and homes, slaughtering animals, and seizing black-owned property.
Blacks hid in the swamps for a week as the mob continued its rampage. Two white brothers, William and John Bryce, conductors on the Sea Board Air Line Railroad, came to the aid of fleeing blacks, and picked up many of the women and children hiding in the swamps, taking them to Gainesville and safety. Others walked to Gainesville and other Northern cities to escape.
Though documented reports say that eight people died in the riot, two whites and six blacks, undocumented sources put the numbers even higher, from eigheen to one hundred blacks murdered and buried in a mass grave in the surrounding woods and fields.
Black residents never returned to Rosewood. In 1992, two survivors of the massacre filed a claim against the State of Florida, and in 1994 survivors and descendants were awarded $2 million. Unlike the victims of Black Wall Street, a similar incident that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, this is the only known case in which black Americans, as victims of an actual crime committed against their humanity, have received individual reparations.
- Displays for Schools, Inc. Documented History of the Incident Which Occurred at Rosewood, Florida