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.

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

 

 

 

Fort Mose: North America’s First Free Black Community

“In February of 1739, Florida Governor Manuel de Montana built a coastal fortress a few miles north of St. Augustine. He invited free blacks to populate it; Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, more commonly known as Fort Mose, was the first free black community in North America.

Fort Mose

Spain did its best to make Fort Mose attractive to Africans. Seed and tools for farming were provided, and food was sent in until the first crops could be raised. There was a priest assigned to the fort for religious instruction. Cannons were placed on the ramparts. Muskets were issued to men who wanted them, and most did. The only obligation placed on the Africans living there was to help defend Florida against invaders.

Word about Fort Mose spread quickly to slaves in the southern British colonies. The colonists and the English army personnel stationed in the southern regions of the American colonies decided they only had one option — to invade Florida, destroy St. Augustine and Fort Mose, and, hopefully, drive out the Spanish colonists forever. All they needed was an excuse.”

Source: Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro by Jeff Guinn; Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002 p. 19

Photo Credit: Eric Gorski

Zora Neale Hurston Festival Kicks Off with a Look Back

 

Zora Neale Hurston

Historic Eatonville, Fla., opens its doors to all visitors and fans of Zora Neale Hurston on Saturday, January 21 with its Back in the Day: Reflections of Historic Eatonville. The event kicks off the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival.

The start time is 6:p.m. at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts on 227 East Kennedy Boulevard. The event consists of an opening reception, gallery talk and features an exhibition of the artifacts and memorabilia from Early Eatonville. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 407 647-3188 or go to the website: ZoraFestival.org