Florida’s ‘Grown Folks’ Black History Month Tour

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.

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

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

 

 

A Different Take on the Rosewood Massacre

 

 

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

“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.'”

Source: Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson; Prometheus Books, 2014 p. 192

Photo Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

Gov. Lawton Chiles Compensates Rosewood Massacre Descendants

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

Every now and then the state government of Florida does the right thing and acknowledges a historic wrong, sometimes it goes as far as to commemorate that transgression. Such was the case on May 4, 1994.

That was the date when the late Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles signed a $2.1 million compensation bill for the surviving families of the Rosewood massacre, which took place in 1923 after rampaging whites sought revenge for a woman who claimed she was raped by a black man. The crazed crowd devastated the black community of Rosewood in rural Levy County. Five black residents were killed, property was burned or stolen, and the survivors fled the county to live the rest of their lives in shame.

Entering Rosewwod

But, 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. The bill signed into law by Gov. Chiles gave nine survivors $150,000 each and established a college scholarship and a separate fund to compensate descendants of the Rosewood survivors who could prove property loss.

Acknowledgement of a wrong bordering on commemoration.

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

Photo Credits:

New Year’s Day Not Good for Rosewood

By Douglas C. Lyons

New years always bring changes. For many blacks,  2017 brings a sense of dread with the incoming Trump administration threatening to undo much of the progress made in government under President Barack Obama.

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

Imagine the fear 94 years ago on New Years Day when the 200 residents of Rosewood were chased out of their homes by an angry mob of white men who believed that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been attacked by a black man. Many blacks believed the story was a lie to cover up a beatdown the woman received from her white boyfriend.

The facts, of course, never deterred a racist mob. At least six blacks were killed and the mob destroyed the frame houses, churches and a meeting hall that made up Rosewood, located 10 miles east of Cedar Key in rural Levy County.

Rosewood wasn’t the only black community in the 1920s to experience this type of bloodbath. However, it was the only black community that mob violence completely destroyed.

All that’s left are open fields a few bricks, a historic marker  and the house of John Wright, one of the few whites that tried to help black residents during the violence. Fortunately, this historic tragedy was remembered. There was a movie and in 1994, the Florida Legislature approved a bill that Gov. Lawton Chiles signed into law that compensates survivors and their descendants of the massacre.

Source: African American Sites in Florida by Kevin M. McCarthy Pineapple Press, Inc., 2007 p. 134

Photo Credit: Florida State Archives