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Massacre in Rosewood 1923

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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 black man had sexually assaulted a white woman, Fanny Taylor, 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 schoolteacher from Perry had been murdered and on New Year’s 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 being lynched.

The white mob suspected Aaron’s cousin, Sylvester Carrier, a Rosewood resident of harboring the fugitive, Jesse Hunter. Racial unrest and violence was prevalent throughout the United States in the early 1900’s. It was hard to go any amount of time without hearing of the lynching of a black citizen, a violent mob against black people, or large riots of killing blacks. In Rosewood, Florida, an incident of high caliber and commotion occurred during these moments of extreme racial segregation. These Rosewood incidents became public knowledge as the entire population of blacks chose to move out of the small city. These black citizens were in fear for their lives as many racially heinous and violent crimes were occurring against the people of their same race. Lynching had become so common that many blacks moved in fear that if they did not, they would end up dead. Through 1917-1923 there was a huge reign of terror against African Americans, where white mobs would show an abundant amount of violence and torture towards blacks (Rosewood Report, 1993, pg3). From Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs would come and burn down the black communities (Rosewood Report, 1993 pg3).

During the second decade of the twentieth century, African Americans began to leave the South in record numbers to escape the oppressions of segregation. For many years, white Floridians had seriously discussed sending local blacks to a foreign country or to a western region of the United States. Many white had such a low opinion of blacks that they were prepared to treat them in the most inhumane fashion whenever they felt themselves threatened by the minority (Rosewood Report, 1993, pg5).

Napoleon Broward, who was the governor, proposed that Congress purchased territory, either forgiven or domestic, and transport blacks to such regions where they could live separate lives and govern themselves (Rosewood Report, 1993, pg4). Racial hostilities in the North were enhanced by immigration of black southerners and the expansion black neighborhoods into white residential areas (Rosewood Report, 1993, pg7). In 1919, race riots that were sweeping the country Claude McKay paid tribute to it by writing a poem entitled “If We Must Die.” Encouraged by his poem and of the NAACP and other black leaders, blacks now appeared in public with rifles at their sides (Rosewood Report, 1993, pg8). In southern communities, black residents increasingly carried weapons to protect themselves against the many lynching’s that were occurring. 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. Many of the black residents of Rosewood who fled to the swamps were evacuated on January 6 by two local train conductors, John and William Bryce. Many others were hidden by John Wright, the owner of the general store. Other black residents of Rosewood fled to Gainesville and to northern cities. Because of the massacre, Rosewood became deserted. The initial report of the Rosewood incident presented less than a month after the massacre claimed there was insufficient evidence for prosecution.

Thus no one was charged with any of the Rosewood murders. In 1994, however, as the result of new evidence and renewed interest in the event, the Florida Legislature passed the Rosewood Bill which entitled the nine survivors to $150,000 dollars each in compensation. The Rosewood massacre was a violent, racially motivated conflict that took place during the first week of January 1923 in rural Levy County, Florida, United States. 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 lynching’s in the years before the massacre, including a well-publicized incident in December 1922. I chose this movie because it was very interesting to me when I first saw it and I never heard of Rosewood, FL before. I thought it was just a movie to show how lynching and massacres were conducted in America.

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