“Our manhood, and that of our fathers, was denied on all levels by white society, a fact insidiously expressed in the way black men were addressed. No matter what his age, whether he was in his burgeoning twenties or full of years, the black man was never referred to as ‘mister,’ nor even by his surname. No. To the end of his days, he had to absorb the indignity of being called ‘boy,’ ‘nigger’ or ‘uncle.’ No wonder then that every time Dr. Hope addressed us as ‘young gentlemen,’ the seeds of self-worth and confidence, long dormant, began to germinate and sprout. The attitudes we developed toward ourselves, as a result of this influence, set Morehouse men apart.”
Fourth in a series of Florida “Black” Historic Marker Destinations
By Douglas C. Lyons
ROSEWOOD — On January 1, 1923, this enclave of modest houses and small businesses in Levy County, came to an end. Today, the only reminder of its existence is a historic marker along State Road 24 just outside of Cedar Key.
All it took back then was the word of a white woman in nearby Sumner who accused a black man of rape. What followed was the gathering of an angry mob of white men that burned the black settlement to the ground and killed five black residents in the process. The survivors fled, taking a vow of silence and never returned. The shame of the devastation would remain for decades.
Fortunately, the story didn’t end there.
Years later, the massacre prompted the 1997 movie Rosewood, 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.)
More importantly, though, the state of Florida tried to right the wrong.
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. 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.
Ten years later, Gov. Jeb Bush dedicated a state historic marker at the site of the massacre along SR 24, about 50 miles south of Gainesville. in 2004.
If you go, the trip will take some planning. Rosewood isn’t exactly in the center of things. In fact, my suggestion would be to make a day trip out of the visit and drive south to the end of SR 24 into Cedar Key, Florida’s second oldest city. It’s a fishing, and artist village on the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find any fast food establishments, Starbucks or a Walmart.Think boating tours, fishing charters, a wildlife refugee and some unique bars, galleries and restaurants. Hotel lodging is available, but may be hard to find during the height of tourist season.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Photo Credits: State Library & Archives of Florida, Moni3@ English Wikipedia and Doris T. Harrell
This week — Sunday actually — 54 years ago, a young boxer from Louisville, Ky. made history in Miami Beach. Cassius Clay, a 7-1 underdog, beat then heavyweight champ Sonny Liston in a unanimous decision.
The fight was among the most anticipated, watched and controversial matches in boxing. Few expected the upset. At the time, Clay was known more for his ability to taunt Liston than his skills in the ring. It took six rounds for Clay to silence his critics. Liston refused to answer the bell in the seventh round.
Even fewer would guess that the new champion would go on to become an iconic American hero who would transcend the sport of boxing. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, became a devout follower of the Nation of Islam and opposed the Vietnam War — all unthinkable behavior for a heavyweight boxing champion.
Thirdin a series of Florida “Black” Historic Marker Destinations
By Douglas C. Lyons
SAINT AUGUSTINE — The city’s Lincolnville neighborhood should be a ‘must’ stop on every visitors’ trip to America’s oldest city. It’s a picturesque section of town, located just south of the famed historic district. The fact that it is also Saint Augustine’s historic black community gives the area its own bit of uniqueness.
Whites are moving into the community that was founded by freed slaves. Older homes are giving way to new developments. Property values are going up, and many longtime residents are moving out. It’s an all-too familiar trend.
There is still a lot to love about Lincolnville. The area’s architecture includes the city’s highest concentration of Victorian-era homes. The Lincolnville neighborhood is a picture perfect place for walking tours, something almost everyone does during their stay in Saint Augustine’s historic district.
The area also has its fair share of history, including the 1964 civil rights demonstration that made Saint Augustine a brief focal point during America’s Civil Rights Movement. There’s a lot to see and during those quiet moments along the neighborhood streets, all that history seems to come alive.
Lincolnville remains the city’s historic black community.
How long that lasts is anyone’s guess.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Photo Credits: Douglas C. Lyons & Doris T. Harrell
“Many years later, the people would stand up to water hoses and sheriff’s dogs to be treated as equal. But for now the people resisted in silent, everyday rebellions that would build up to a storm at midcentury. Rocks stuffed into cotton sacks in Mississippi at weighing time. The ‘Colored Only’ signs pulled from the seat backs at public buses and converted into dartboards in dorm rooms in Georgia. Teenagers sneaking into coffee shops and swiveling on the soda fountain stools forbidden to colored people in Florida and then running out as fast as they’d come in before anybody could catch them. Each one fought in isolation and unbeknownst to the others, long before the marches and boycotts that were decades away.”
“The white press depicted Rosewood as a riot stemming from the familiar poisonous root of sexual assault, exacerbated by Negroes with guns. But the black press cast the fighters of Rosewood as heroes. The New York Age compared the incident to recent acts of self-defense in Chicago where ‘the Negro was not afraid to fight back and when that fight was over he felt that he had something pretty near a fair chance before the law. Those are two conditions which the suffocating, damning atmosphere of the South does not permit.'”
Wait! What? Gov. Rick Scott now wants the state Clemency Board to rewrite rules for restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time and repaid their debt to society. Where was the governor’s zeal before a federal judge forced his hand?
Before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the current state procedure was “arbitrary” and open to bias in granting clemency, Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet were content to let applicants for clemency wait five years before even applying, and then waiting some more before getting a hearing.
The Clemency Board only meets four times a year and faces a backlog of more than 10,000.. There are roughly 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida who are eligible to seek restoration of their voting rights.
Bottom line? The system is arbitrary and subject to potential bias.
Don’t expect a big rush to change by the governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer — all Republicans who are the clemency board — to change the process. All this is posturing as the state moves to appeal the federal judge’s ruling against Florida’s clemency process.
Fortunately, voters can change the Florida Constitution this November to allow convicted felons to vote in future elections. Voters can also let at least two Clemency Board members know that they don’t appreciate the long delay in allowing ex-felons the right to vote. Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam wants to be governor. CFO Jimmy Patronis wants to be re-elected, and Rick Scott is expected to run for the U.S. Senate. If their names are on the November 6th ballot, cast your vote and make your feelings about voting rights known.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blkinfla.com.
Here’s some Florida Black History that is appropriate to Valentine’s Day. It’s a love connection of some historic significance: the marriage of Abraham Lincoln Lewis and Mary Sammis. It was a very big deal in our state’s history.
Lewis was born in 1865 and would grow up to become rich businessman in Jacksonville. He amassed a fortune in several enterprises, including the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. He purchased enough oceanfront property along a strand of Amelia Island, which become American Beach, a popular tourist destination for blacks during the days of racial segregation.
Lewis married well. At age 19, he married Mary Sammis, the great-granddaughter of the eccentric yet wealthy landowner, planter and slave trader and political activist Zephaniah Kingsley and his Senegalese wife, Anna Jai.
Lewis, according to the book, An American Beach for African Americans, brought ambition and reliability to the marriage. Mary Sammis brought a respected name and recognition, making the pair quite the power couple of their day.
“Cassius struggled to get to sleep that first night. He later complained that the worst times of training in Miami were the lonely hours after dark. ‘I just sit here like a little animal in a box at night,’ he told a sportswriter in 1961. ‘I can’t go out in the street and mix with the folks out there ’cause they wouldn’t be out there if they was up to any good. I can’t do nothing except sit … Here I am, just 19, surrounded by showgirls, whisky and sissies, and nobody watching me. All this temptation and me trying to train to be a boxer. It’s something to think about.'”
“Driven from public service by the same white supremacists he had conciliated while in office, Josiah T. Walls fought successfully to have public land set aside near Tallahassee for the establishment of a training school for black students. Initially known as the State Normal College for Colored Students, it later became the Agricultural and Mechanical School, later still the legendary Florida A&M. Marginalized and ignored, Walls passed the final years of life working on the school’s farm.”