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Remembering Rosewood

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Amsterdam News Staff | 1/3/2013, 3:44 p.m.
The first week of the new year 1923 was not a good one for the...
Remembering Rosewood

News of the attack was reported in the papers as a race riot. The Black press praised the heroism of Rosewood's residents while the white press vilified them as "a band of armed Negros." The idea of Blacks arming themselves against whites in the Deep Jim Crow South was unthinkable--and big news.

On Jan. 7, the mob returned to finish destroying what was left of Rosewood. One by one, every Black-owned structure was destroyed. On Feb. 12, 1923, a grand jury was convened to investigate the massacre. After listening to the testimonies of 25 whites and eight Black witnesses, the jury reported that they could find no basis to prosecute. No one was ever punished for what happened at Rosewood. The actual number of people killed remains unknown.

Rosewood survivors were not quick to talk about what they had lived through. They settled in other cities and many changed their names for fear that whites would track them down. No one ever returned and the little town slipped into oblivion. The land where Rosewood once stood was confiscated under tax sales.

Aaron Carrier died in 1965. Sarah Carrier's husband, Haywood, was on a hunting trip when the carnage broke out. He came home to find his wife and son dead and his home destroyed. He died a year later. Jessie Hunter was never found.

Fannie Taylor, whose horrific lie started the disaster, moved to another mill town with her husband, where she died of cancer.

In 1992, Rosewood survivor Lee Ruth remembered many of the events that occurred that week of January 1923. Not the least was her impression that "they killed everything in Rosewood. They didn't want anything living in there. They killed everything."

No apology or talk of compensation was offered until May 4, 1994, when the Florida Legislature agreed to give $2.1 million to survivors of the massacre and their descendants. On May 4, 2004, Gov. Jeb Bush dedicated a historic marker in memory of Rosewood and its citizens.

Rosewood is gone but not forgotten. Lizzie R. Jenkins is the niece of Rosewood teacher Mahulda Gussie Brown and director of the Real Rosewood Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving the history of Rosewood. For more information, visit rose woodflorida.com.