Rosewood Marks the Second Stop of the ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

ROSEWOOD — Drive too fast and you’ll miss it. The name may exist on a map as a dot along State Road 24 just northwest of Cedar Key. In real life, however, it’s a stretch of two-lane highway surrounded by fields. Off to the side is the historic marker that tells the tale of death, humiliation and restoration.

In the 1920s,  Rosewood was a small black settlement in Levy County. Many of the residents built and owned their homes, and the community contained several businesses, churches and a Masonic Lodge. Life was good. Well, as good as any poor group of residents who endured the post-slavery mores of white southern society in the early 20th century.

On January 1, 1923, the Rosewood community came to an end. A white woman in nearby Sumner accused a black man of rape. What followed next was the gathering of an angry mob of white men that descended on Rosewood. They drove its residents into the nearby woods, burned the community and killed five black residents in the process. Those blacks who survived took a vow of silence and never returned. The shame of the devastation remained for decades.

If this story is beginning to sound familiar, you’re probably old enough to remember the movie. Rosewood hit the big screen in 1997, starring Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Esther Rolle and Jon Voight. (For all you Guardians of the Galaxy and Walking Dead fans, the actor Michael Rooker played Sheriff Walker in Rosewood.)  The film pretty much adhered to the tragic events that resulted in the complete destruction of Rosewood.

Fortunately, the story didn’t end there.

Entering Rosewood

In 1994, several survivors of the Rosewood families filed a claims bill in the Florida Legislature, and ultimately a Special Master appointed by the Florida Speaker of the House ruled that the state had a “moral obligation” to compensate the survivors for mental anguish, property loss and the violation of their constitutional rights. On May 4, 1994, Gov. Lawton Chiles signed a $2.1 million compensation bill, which gave nine survivors $150,000 each and established a college scholarship and a separate fund to compensate descendants who could prove property loss.

The Historic Marker was dedicated by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004.

The next destination on our Florida Black Historic Marker Tour tells a another remarkable story of state history. Check back to see where we end up next.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.

Accessibility: This trip takes planning. Rosewood, Fla. is roughly an hour’s drive out of Gainesville and amounts to an eye-blink along State Road 24. Take SR 24 south from Gainesville for 49 miles before reaching Rosewood.

Area Attractions: Make a day trip out of the Rosewood visit and drive to the end of SR 24 into Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. Cedar Key is Florida’s second oldest city. It’s a fishing, and artist village that moves at a slow pace befitting a small coastal community. Fewer than 1,000 residents live there permanently, and the main drag runs less than four blocks.

You won’t find any fast food establishments, Starbucks or a Walmart Superstore. Think boating tours, fishing charters, a museum, a wildlife refugee and some unique bars, galleries and restaurants. Hotel lodging is available, but may be hard to find on peak holidays and during the height of tourist season.

Photo Credits: Doris T. Harrell, State Library & Archives of Florida and Moni3@ English Wikipedia.

Was James Weldon Johnson a Little Bit ‘Bougie?’

“As I look back now, I can see that I was a perfect little aristocrat.”

James Weldon Johnson, author, educator, civil rights activist and Florida native.

The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: None needed. James Weldon Johnson was aristocratic as a bona-fide member of The Talented Tenth.

Where Is Douglas C. Lyons Going Next with the ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’?

Mark your calendars. The second stop of the “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” summertime road trip is coming up soon. Check back here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, June 22 to see our next black historic destination.  Check it out. You’ll enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons

Photo Credit: Douglas C. Lyons

 

A Father’s Advice on Race

“Perhaps realizing the substance of his legacy, William [Sawyer] did not pass without giving his son Bill, principal heir to his fortune, a last important lesson. ‘When my daddy was dying,’ the younger Sawyer recalled, ‘ he had me come in and gave me a long talk. He said, ‘Bill, try to be careful as you can with your developments and your monies and stuff like that because you are a nigger, and I want you to know that for the foreseeable future you are going to be a nigger.’

For a long time, Bill concluded, ‘I found that to be true.’

Sources: Bill Sawyer, Interviewed by Stephanie Wanza, August 25, 1997, 3, 59, Tell the Story Collection BA; and A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida, by N.D.B. Connolly The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 165

Racism in Florida’s Panhandle Fueled Early Black Resistance

“Due to the outbreak of World War I, the promise of employment opportunities sparked another wave of rural migration to Pensacola. White newcomers outnumbered African Americans and accepted jobs considered undesirable a few years earlier. Only menial labor or domestic positions remained open to blacks, and 60 percent of Escambia County African Americans had no jobs at the decade’s end. Many simply left the area during the Great Migration in search for employment in the North, and white supremacy continued to permeate Northwest Florida. Throughout the decade, the Pensacola News Journal glorified the Confederacy, justified white supremacy, published cartoons and editorials that negatively stereotyped blacks, supported the Ku Klux Klan and sensationalized crimes that blacks allegedly committed.

Some African Americans responded to the increased anxiety by joining the Pensacola chapter of the NAACP, which was formed on June 15, 1919. It was Florida’s second local branch, and it enrolled seventy-three members in its first year of existence.”

Source: Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, 1960-1980 By J. Michael Butler The University of North Carolina Press, 2016 p. 21

Howard Thurman Learns Why the Sun Never Sets on the British Empire

 

“At dinner one night, at a large university center, there was a discussion of colonialism and what it had brought by way of blessings to the country. A very beautiful young Indian woman, an instructor at a nearby college, whispered to me, ‘Dr. Thurman, do you know why the sun never sets on the British Empire?’ 

‘No,’ I replied.

‘I will tell you,’ she said. ‘God cannot trust the Englishman in the dark.’

Source: With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman Harcourt Brace & Company, 1979 p. 124

The ‘So-What’?! Significance: Aside from the astute observation about conquerors in general, I just liked the humor of the anecdote,  and I’m glad Dr. Thurman used it in his autobiography.

‘Father’ Abraham Found Success in Florida’s Grueling Turpentine Labor

“Turpentine bands were recruited from throughout the South, often by their fellow blacks. The most famous of these agents was Henry N. ‘Father’ Abraham, a native of South Carolina who went to work in a turpentine camp in Lawtey, Florida. While there, he became a hoodoo doctor and used the prestige and influence of that position accorded him in rural southern communities to recruit workers, receiving payment from the company for each person he brought to camp.For a fee, he healed the sick, removed and cast spells, predicted winning bolt numbers. He earned enough from his practice to buy 200 acres of land, on which he built homes for two dozen tenant farmers and their families. He became a successful strawberry grower, a wealthy and world-famous hoodoo doctor before his death in 1937. He was one of the few lucky ones. In many ways a decent, generous man, Father Abraham profited from a cruel business and then escaped while continuing to trade on ignorance and superstition.”

Source: Some Kind of Paradise: A Chronicle of Man and the Land in Florida  By Mark DerrWilliam Morrow and Company, 1998 p. 120

Our First ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’ Stop Is …

 

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

West Settlers Historic District Marker and Me

DELRAY BEACH — Welcome to South Florida and the ‘Village by the Sea,” the first stop of our summer  “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour.”

The state of Florida has about 800 historic markers to honor homes, businesses and community landmarks that are a part of Sunshine State history. Many of those markers describe the contributions black Floridians have made to the state’s development.

My goal is to visit as many of them as I can.

I hate to admit this, but I discovered my first stop by accident. I was headed to my neighborhood soul-food joint in Delray Beach, Donnie’s Place. The restaurant is located in the West Settlers Historic District, the site of the city’s first African American community.

5th Avenue: The Hub of West Settlers Historic District

The West Settlers Historic District received local historic designation in 1997 and today remains in the hub of Delray Beach’s black community. Northwest 5th Avenue is the district’s cultural focal point. It’s home to The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, the former home of Solomon D. Spady, one of the city’s most influential African Americans.

The area hasn’t seen the development and re-gentrification hat has taken place in other in-town neighborhoods. Unlike some other iconic black areas in Florida,  the West Settlers Historic District remains predominantly black community.

Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

The black historic district in Delray Beach is just one of many historic attractions that tell the story of black achievement in the Sunshine State. Give credit to the Florida Department of State and the many local community organizations and county and municipal governments for stepping up and deciding to preserve Florida’s black history.

The next destination is in another part of the state and tells a compelling story about Florida’s remarkable black history. It’s a far cry from trendy Delray Beach. Stay tuned.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.

Accessibility: Easy. Take the Atlantic Avenue exit off Interstate 95  east to N.W. 5th Avenue. Turn left, and you’re in the West Settlers Historic District.

Area Attractions: There’s still more to do outside of Delray Beach’s  Historic West Settlers District. However, the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum is worth a visit, as is Donnie’s Place Restaurant.

Photo Credits: Douglas C. Lyons and Ebyabe