Rosewood, Florida is a town hidden in great mystery. Though small, this place has a history equal to that of any major city. Why? This town was the setting of one of the worst race riots in Florida history, yet is commonly unknown among its inhabitants.
10. The Massacre was started by a mystery woman
The Rosewood Massacre occurred on New Year’s Day of 1923 – a crucial time in history regarding race – and did not end until January 7th. So when twenty two year old Francis “Fannie” Taylor, a white woman, claimed to have been assaulted by a black man, there a massive outcry for justice. Taylor stated that she was beaten but never raped. However, as the news spread around the information was slightly twisted and embellished. By the time the news had spread across the town of Sumner, it was widely believed that not only was Fannie Taylor beaten, but she was also raped and robbed.
Although everyone was naturally on Fannie Taylor’s side, some women of the town were reported to not know much about the “peculiar” woman. There were three main facts that Sumner’s women knew about Mrs. Taylor: she was married with a baby and was known to be obsessively clean.
9. The Event Behind the Rosewood Massacre Didn’t Even Occur in Rosewood
Although Rosewood, Florida was the place that the massacre occurred in, the scene of the crime was actually never located there. Actually, Mrs. Fannie Taylor lived three miles away in the town of Sumner, Florida. In addition, the majority of people who helped destroy the town weren’t even from the area; most of the men came over from a Klan rally that was going on in Gainsville, Florida and other angry whites were residents of the surrounding counties that came to aid in the hunt for the man who hurt Fannie. This manhunt would wind up last for an entire week, and would claim the lives of many innocent people, not to mention the death a once bustling town.
On the run, many of the African American families were forced to hide in swamps and in the houses of local White residents who were against the violence. Others fled through the woods and caught a passing train ran by local non-violent Whites in order to save the lives of themselves and their families.
8 . Rosewood was a Predominately Black Town
Again, the actual attack took place in Sumner, but it was believed that Fannie was attacked by Jesse Hunter, an African American convict who allegedly had just escaped from a prison chain gang. Because of this fact, people were possibly led to believe that Hunter took refuge in Rosewood, which was a “mostly Negro” town where he may have had family or friends with whom he could take refuge.
Rosewood, Florida was established in 1845, named after the abundance of red cedar in the town. In 1870, the town began to flourish because a railway was built in order to transport the popular red cedar. By 1910, the population of trees had been severely minimized and many of the white families were forced to move in order to find work, leaving the town left to be occupied by the Blacks that remained there. Most of these families moved to Sumner.
7. The White Members of the Town Weren’t the Only Ones In the Rampage
After finding out about the attack of his wife, James Taylor, along with a group of other angry Whites, came together and formed a posse to find Fannie’s attacker. However, these were not the only people to join the cause.
Conveniently, a Klu Klux Klan rally was just ending in Gainsville, Florida which was in the neighboring county. At this rally, the KKK was performing a march, opposing justice for Blacks. When a telegraph was sent to them by a neighboring Sheriff, informing them of the situation in Sumner, a large group of KKK members immediately packed up and headed to Sumner in order to aid in the cause. The KKK members, combined with the whites of Sumner and some of the surrounding areas equaled four to five hundred bloodthirsty people, desperate to defend Fannie. Sources say that this was one of the first instances in which KKK members committed their crimes while not in costume.
6. It is Not Certain How Many Lives Were Lost During the Massacre
The rampage lasted an entire week and the whole town, including houses, all three Black churches, and one White church, the Masonic Hall, and other public buildings, were completely burned to the ground. However, there were only eight documented deaths from the entire event; six Black and two White. Many people were killed from gunfire and arson, but on the last day of the massacre a mob of up to 150 whites set the remaining buildings on fire, leaving little to be know about whether or not anybody was left behind and did not escape like the others did.
Just like the news of Fannie’s attack was changed, so were the body counts during the massacre. Some White locals were said to have claimed that over seventeen were killed, while a survivor recounted that she remembered stepping over numerous White bodies as she and her family escaped the violence. There were also theories that there are still some Rosewood residents that died in the woods around the area that were never discovered.
5. The Government Didn’t Get Involved Until it Was too Late
As the massacre continued, state publications caught wind of what was happening and began to feature the events on the front pages of their newspapers. Eventually the news spread to national newspapers such as The Washington Post and St. Louis Dispatch. The Sheriff, who went by Walker, of the town was also said to be secretly giving information to The Associated Press.
Governor Cary Hardy, fearing that this event would negatively impact the tourist industry to the state, began sending messages to Sheriff Ramsey, informing him that he would send in National Guard troops at his word. However, Sheriff Walker sent the Hardy a telegram stating that did not fear “further disorder” and reassured the governor that the situation was under control. Governor Hardy took Walker’s word for it and, instead of waiting to see how the events played out, decided to go on a hunting trip.
After the massacre had finally ended, the governor ordered an investigation to be performed of the events that had occurred. On February 12, 1923, a special grand jury was put together to aid in the investigation. After listening to the testimonies of twenty-five whites and eight black witnesses, the all white jury concluded that there simply was not enough evidence to convict anyone.
4. The Survivors were Reparated
After the massacre was finally ended, there were decades of silence, causing the events of those seven days at Rosewood to be virtually forgotten by the state of Florida and then general public as a whole. However, that of all changed in 1984 when investigative reporter Gary Moore began a project with the remaining survivors and descendants of the Rosewood Massacre to finally share their stories. This led to a renewed interest in the tragic events of 1923 and a new cause that many residents of Florida felt compelled to fight for.
Although no one was convicted of any the killings, seventy-one years later in 1994 the state legislature began to hold meetings discussing The Rosewood Compensation Bill, which was being pushed by minority legislatures within the state. That same year, the nine remaining survivors were awarded a $2.1 million settlement, receiving $150,000 a piece. In addition to the compensation, The Rosewood Forum and The Rosewood Heritage Foundation were established to help educate people about the Rosewood Massacre and to teach about the racial discrimination. A scholarship fund was also started for the descendants of the massacre.
3. There is a Movie and a Book About the Event
In 1997, director John Singleton took on the task of creating a movie about the Rosewood Massacre. The film, entitled Rosewood , follows a fictional character by the name of Mann, a drifter who winds up caught in Rosewood during the time of the massacre. The movie depicts his actions during the trying time. The film starred famous actors such as Don Cheadle, Esther Rolle, Elise Neal, Ving Rhames, and Jon Voight. The film grossed over $13 million at the box office and was nominated for ten awards. The film won two Political Film Society Awards and Gregory Poirier, who was the writer for the film, was awarded the Paul Selvin Honorary Award for his work.
The book entitled Like Judgment Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood, written by Michael D’Orso and published in 1996. The book features a historical viewpoint of the event, plus pictures and survivor interviews. The book won the Lillian Smith Book Award.
2. Rosewood is Much Different Today
The events that took place in January of 1923 forever changed the town of Rosewood and Levy County as a whole. After Rosewood was destroyed, the African American residents of the town never returned and the Saw Mill Fannie Taylor’s husband was employed at burned down. The White descendants of the town who still lived there were said to deny that their ancestors had any affiliation with the events that transpired. Compared to time before the massacre, when Cedar Key had over an over thirty percent Black demographic, there is currently no Black population inhabiting that area, one of only two places in Florida to hold an all-white population.
Nonetheless, the town of Rosewood still exists. In 2004, the site of the town was deemed a Florida Heritage Landmark and a historical marker was on State Road 24 which discusses the massacre and lists the names of the victims. However, the small town goes under the radar, commonly unnoticed and is nothing compared to the bustling town it once used to be.
1. The Massacre is Still Somewhat Shrouded in Mystery
The events that occurred at Rosewood have become one of Florida’s dirty little secrets. Even though survivors were compensated, a bill was passed, and a historical marker was erected, still little is known about what happened. It was even reported that the massacre was even left out of the county’s official history.
Even the testimony of victim Fannie Taylor is slightly distorted. Years after the massacre, Philomena Goins Doctor gave a sworn testimony that Taylor was never attacked by any Black man – she was attacked by her lover. According to Philomena, Fannie was having an affair with a local white man named John Bradley who beat her and left immediately after. However, the person who discovered Fannie Taylor beaten and bruised claimed no one else was in the house other than Fannie and her baby. It was also said that Bradley escaped to Rosewood in order to hide and met up with two African American men, one being Sam Carter. Carter helped him escape, but did not realize that the dogs the White mob had to aid in justice had picked up Fannie’s lover’s scent, which was on the blanket Carter helped him escape with, which he took home. The mob arrived at Carter’s house and, assuming he was the attacker, killed him, making him the first victim of the massacre.
People of the town show no traces of what happened years ago. The only memory of the event comes from the historical marker that briefly details what happened that fateful week in January of 1923. The last known survivor of the massacre passed just a few years ago, but the memories and fears still live in the hearts of the descendants to this day.