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

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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