There is a bill before the Florida
Legislature to provide $7 million in
compensation to the victims and descendants of victims of the Rosewood
As consideration of that bill draws
near, the editors of the
Tallahassee Democrat's opinion pages offer the full text of a report on
the 1923 white riot in LevyCounty that destroyed the black township of Rosewood
and claimed eight lives, maybe more. The report is a chilling and disturbing
account of events 71 years ago and is well worth reading.
The report was produced by a
team of researchers from Florida
A&M University, Florida State and the University of Florida and released in
December. The House of Representatives appropriated $50,000 to pay for the
The text of the report follows:
A DOCUMENTED HISTORY OF THE INCIDENT WHICH OCCURRED AT
ROSEWOOD, FLORIDA, IN JANUARY 1923
SUBMITTED TO THE FLORIDA BOARD OF REGENTS DECEMBER 22, 1993
Associate Professor Maxine D. Jones
The Florida State University
Professor Larry E. Rivers
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
Professor David R. Colburn
The University of Florida
R. Tom Dye
The Florida State University
Professor William W. Rogers
The Florida State University
"There is but one way to know the truth, and that is not a golden one.
It is fraught with toil and sacrifice and perhaps ridicule. The seeker
of the truth must be fearless, he must not be afraid to enter the
innermost holies of holies, and to tear down the veils of superstition
that hang about any human and so-called divine institution. It is the
truth that makes men free. If the truth tears down every church and
government under the sun, let the truth be known and this truth only
will be known when men cease to swallow the capsules of ancient
doctors of divinities and politics; and when men begin to seek the
truth in the records of history, politics, religion, and science."
Charles Austin Beard, 1898
A Chronology of Events
Date: 08/05/20 Four black men in McClenny
are removed from the local jail
and lynched for
the alleged rape of a white woman.
Two whites and at least five blacks are killed in Ocoee in
a dispute over
voting rights. The black community of
destroyed, 25 homes, 2 churches, and a Masonic
A black man in Wauchula is lynched for an alleged attack on
a white woman.
A black man in Perry is burned at the stake, accused of
the murder of a
white school teacher. A black church,
Lodge, and meeting hall are burned.
On New Year's Eve a large Ku Klux Klan Parade is held in Gainesville.
01/01/23 Early morning: Fannie Taylor
reports an attack by an
afternoon: Aaron Carrier is apprehended by a
posse and is
spirited out of the area by Sheriff Walker.
afternoon: A posse of white vigilantes apprehend
and kill a black
man named Sam Carter.
01/02/23 Armed whites begin gathering in
01/04/23 Late evening: White vigilantes
attack the Carrier house.
Two white men
are killed, and several others wounded. A
Sarah Carrier is killed and others inside the
are either killed or wounded.
residents flee into the swamps.
One black church
is burned, and several unprotected
Lexie Gordon is murdered.
01/05/23 Approximately 200-300 whites from
converge on Rosewood.
Hardee is notified, and Sheriff Walker
reports that he
fears "no further disorder."
The Sheriff of
Alachua County arrives in Rosewood to
James Carrier is
01/06/23 A train evacuates refugees to Gainesville.
01/07/23 A mob of 100-150 whites return to
Rosewood and burn the
A black man in Newberry is convicted of stealing cattle.
He is removed
from his cell and lynched by local whites.
A Grand Jury convenes in Bronson to investigate the
The Grand Jury finds "insufficient evidence" to prosecute.
Racial unrest and violence against African Americans
domestic developments in the United States during the post-World War
I era. From individual lynchings to massive
violence against entire
black communities, whites in both the North and the South lashed out
against black Americans with a rage that knew few bounds. From
Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in
between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs pursued what can only be
described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the
period from 1917 to 1923. In Chicago, Illinois, for example, law and
order was suspended for 13 days in July 1919 as white mobs made
foray after foray into black neighborhoods, killings and wounding 365
black residents and leaving another 1,000 homeless. In June 1921, the
black section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was almost burned out and thousands
were left homeless following racial violence by white residents.
What had happened to the public's commitment to make
Safe for Democracy" that had become the national by-words during
World War I? And why had white citizens turned against black
Americans with such fury, after many had participated directly in the
war effort and others had patriotically supported it? And finally
how did Rosewood and Florida
fit into these racial developments?
During the second decade of the twentieth century,
Americans began to leave the South in record numbers to escape the
oppression of segregation and the economic havoc created by the boll
weevil's devastation of the cotton crop. They were also drawn to the
North by the promise of economic opportunity and greater freedom.
Over 40,000 black Floridians joined 283,000 African Americans from
other southern states in the migration to Chicago and other midwestern and northeastern cities where a shortage
of labor had
created great demand for black workers. Labor agents from northern
industries and railroads descended on the South in search of black
workers. The Pennsylvania Railroad, for example, brought 12,000 to
work in its yards and on its tracks, all but 2,000 of whom came from Florida and Georgia.
In a recent study, two historians argue that, while
issues were important, African Americans went north principally
because of the mounting racial violence in the South. With the number
of lynchings averaging over 40 per year, the threat
of lynching and
mob violence had become a serious threat to the average black
citizen. As one older study of the black migration noted, both whites
and blacks believed that lynching were "one of the most important
causes" and that the fear of the mob had greatly accelerated the
Recruiting efforts by the agents of northern
especially the notion that someone would actually want their
services and be willing to pay a decent salary for it, was a new and
welcomed experience for black southerners. Not only was there work
in midwestern and northeastern cities, but the pay
higher than what a black American could make in Florida and in other
southern states, and they could also vote and move about freely.
Many African Americans thought they had found the promised land, and
they wrote to their relatives and friends encouraging them to follow
in their footsteps.
In Florida and the South, the response of whites to the
departure of black residents was mixed. Initially, white southerners
ignored or expressed satisfaction with the exodus. For many years,
up to the turn of the twentieth century, white Floridians had
seriously discussed sending local blacks to a foreign country or to a
western region of the United States. For example, Napoleon Broward,
while serving as governor from 1905-1909, proposed that Congress
purchase territory, either foreign or domestic, and transport blacks
to such regions where they could live separate lives and govern
The massive migration, racial stereotypes, the
revival of the
Ku Klux Klan, and the gradual build-up in preparation for World War I
combined to increase racial tensions in ways the nation had not seen
since Reconstruction. African Americans viewed the migration as an
opportunity for freedom and opportunity outside the South. Whites
worried that information sent by northern blacks to friends and
family in the South would create unrest in the region. Adding to
white concerns was the rapid expansion in the membership of the
National Association for the Advanced People (NAACP) during the
years from 1914 to 1920. The NAACP was increasingly condemned by
southern whites for raising black expectations and for promoting
racial unrest in the region.
Underscoring much of the racial hostility were
misconceptions that pervaded white America. In his study of the race
riot in Chicago in 1919, William Tuttle noted that whites believed
blacks "were mentally inferior, immoral, emotional, and criminal.
secondary beliefs were that they were innately lazy, shiftless,
boisterous, bumptious, and lacking in civic consciousness." Many
whites accepted these racial rationalizations because they wanted
to, and their newspapers reinforced such attitudes by publishing
stories that highlighted black crimes and immoral behavior and by
seldom reporting positively about the daily lives of black citizens.
Many whites had such a low opinion of blacks that they were prepared
to treat them in the most inhumane fashion whenever they felt
themselves threatened by the minority.
The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in 1915 reflected the
racial concerns of whites both in the North and the South. In that
year, the motion picture The Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas
Dixon's book The Clansman, sparked great interest in the activities of
the first Klan among whites and spurred its revival. The movie ran
for 47 weeks in New
and portrayed the Klan in heroic and
romantic terms, particularly in its conclusions when the Klan rode to
save southern civilization from the cowardly black militia. Even
President Woodrow Wilson endorsed the film, claiming that "It is like
writing history with lightning and my only regret is that it is all so
terribly true." Although the movie grossly distorted the reality
Reconstruction, it coincided with white concerns about the black
migration and their growing hostility toward racial and ethnic
differences in American society. Wherever the movie was shown, race
relations deteriorated and racial violence frequently occurred.
The second Klan spread rapidly throughout the South
many northern communities as well following the showing of The Birth
of a Nation. Often allied with local police and sheriff's departments-
-indeed many police and sheriff's deputies moonlighted as Klansmen--
the hooded order sought to intimidate blacks into quietly accepting
segregation. Throughout this period, the Klan enjoyed a legitimacy in
many areas of the country that it has not experienced since.
Political and economic leaders in these communities belonged to the
Klan, and the members often conducted publicly advertised parades
through the center of southern communities. The ceremonies were
much like patriotic gatherings of veterans on July 4th, with large
crowds of whites cheering Klan members. In an editorial in the
Gainesville Daily Sun in 1922, the editor noted that he had belonged
to the Klan and praised many of its noble qualities.
The spatial and social dislocation that occurred
mobilization effort for World War I enhanced contact between whites
and blacks. This seemingly new arrangement made whites,
those in the South, uncomfortable. In particular, the arming and
training of black soldiers in the South heightened fears among white
natives. Although the Army was committed to mobilizing an African
American division, its commanders, as well as politicians, worried
about where to train the troops in light of southern concerns. The
92nd division was eventually trained at two places in the North, but
many other black troops received their training or were stationed in
the South. Skirmishes between whites and blacks often occurred in
southern communities when black soldiers came to town, and the
threat of more serious violence seemed ever present. German
propaganda added considerably to white anguish, especially when such
propaganda called on African Americans to lay down their arms or turn
them against their real enemies--southern whites. In August 1917,
white fears materialized when armed black soldiers killed seventeen
white residents of Houston, Texas, following a prolonged period of
racial insults and harassment.
Escalating racial confrontations and rumors during
years portended ill for race relations during the postwar period.
Clashes occurred in many southern communities between black
soldiers and local whites, although none as severe as the incident in Houston. At East St. Louis, Illinois, black competition for white jobs
ignited a fierce race riot on July 2, 1917, in which nine whites and
thirty-nine blacks lost their lives, and black homes were
indiscriminately torched. Over 300 buildings valued above $500,000
were destroyed in the black section of town. Shouts of "Burn 'em out"
were heard throughout the violence and would become the battle cry
of the white mob during the postwar period.
Rumors also circulated in the States in 1918 that
soldiers had been warmly received in Europe and had had their way
with white women in France. Back home, white militants warned that
black veterans would no longer be content with black women when they
returned from Europe.
As the massive exodus of African Americans continued
northern counties of Florida
during the war years, GovernorsPark
Trammell (1913-1917) and his successor Sidney Catts
essentially ignored it. Trammell, who had been the state's Attorney
General prior to becoming governor, was no friend of black Floridians.
During his Attorney Generalship, he had disregarded the lynching of
29 blacks and did the same when another 21 were lynched during his
governorship. Catts had been elected on a
platform that was anti-
Catholic and anti-black. Once in office, he publicly labeled black
residents as part of "an inferior race," and refused to criticize
two lynchings in 1919. When the NAACP complained
about these lynchings, Catts wrote denouncing the organization and blacks
declaring that "Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings
to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the
dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would . . . [teach] your
people not to kill our white officers and disgrace our white women,
you would keep down a thousand times greater disgrace." Catts reversed himself,
however, when white business leaders,
especially those in the lumber and turpentine business, began to
complain that the continued out migration of blacks was having a
devastating effect on labor availability and labor costs in Florida.
Suddenly Catts urged blacks to stay in Florida, and called for unity
and harmony among the races. Officials in Jacksonville charged labor
agents a $1,000 licensing fee for recruiting black citizens and on
occasion threatened their lives to discourage them from persuading
more blacks to leave. Few black citizens listened to Catts or were
intimidated by threats. The migration continued to escalate as a
quiet protest against racial conditions in the South.
With the end of World War I, racial concerns about
migration and returning black veterans coincided with the resurgence
of nativism. Native Americans worried that
their society was being
overrun by people who had values and political beliefs
different from theirs. Madison Grant captured their concerns in a
book entitled The Passing of the Great Race, which was reissued in
1921 and 1922 and in which Grant warned that the great Nordic race
was being endangered by the increasing numbers of inferior peoples,
especially blacks. The massive wave of immigration prior to World War
I and the growing presence of African Americans in the nation's cities
spurred nativist opposition. The second Ku
Klux Klan, in particular
played upon American concerns about difference by attacking both
blacks and immigrants indiscriminately.
Social unrest created havoc with the nation's
post-World War I conditions. Urban workers complained bitterly about
low hourly wages and working conditions, and many
went on strike. The
involvement of recent immigrants in the labor unrest and in the
socialist movement in 1919 and 1920 led some to believe that
American institutions were threatened by ethnic and racial militants.
Fear became so widespread that many alleged that communist labor
groups, in particular, with allies in the NAACP, were plotting to
overthrow the United States.
Racial hostilities in the North were further
continued immigration of black southerners and the expansion of black
neighborhoods into white residential areas. In Chicago, a peaceful
beach scene on July 27, 1919, turned violent when whites stoned a
teenaged black swimmer who allegedly crossed over into the white
area. Racial encounters occurred throughout the city on the
following day with both groups arming themselves and attacking one
another. By the second day, two armed camps had formed and whites
assaulted the black residential area on the south side of the city.
For thirteen days, Chicago was literally without law and order as the
violence went back and forth. Over 38 people were killed, another 520
wounded, and 1,000 people lost their homes in the nation's worst race
riot. The violence in Chicago, East St. Louis, Omaha, and several
other northern communities left the dreams and aspirations of black
As events in Chicago and East St. Louis made clear, black
citizens had changed their attitude about white violence and
intimidation. No longer content to sit quietly by
while mobs stormed
their communities and destroyed their property, blacks began to
defend themselves against the mounting violence. Claude
tribute to this militant "New Negro" in a poem, If We Must Die,
during the epidemic of race riots that were sweeping the country in
If we must die,
let it not be like hogs
penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us
bark the mad and hungry dogs,
mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die,
O let us nobly die,
So that our
precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then
even the monsters we defy
constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their
thousand blows deal one deathblow!
before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll
face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the
wall, dying, but fighting back!
Encouraged by McKay's poem and by the urging of the NAACP and other
black leaders, blacks now appeared in public with rifles at their
sides. They also volunteered to protect black prisoners whose lives
were threatened by a white mob. In Tulsa a band of armed blacks
arrived at the jail to offer their assistance to police officers who
were outmanned and outgunned in trying to protect black prisoners
from a hostile white crowd. In other southern communities, black
residents increasingly carried weapons to protect themselves
against the rising tide of lynching. The notion of an armed black
population in their midst sent shivers through the white community
and contributed to a paranoia that fed racial fears and
Newspapers added to white fears by publishing a
daily litany of
alleged racial attacks and alleged rapes against white women. A day
seldom went by during the period from 1917 to 1923 in which an
incident of this kind was not reported in headlines on the front
pages. Violent retribution was the accepted manner of response in
the South, in particular, but also in the North for crimes against
white women. Lynchings steadily escalated
from 38 in 1917 to 58 in
1918. During the period from 1918 to 1927, lynch mobs took the lives
of 454 persons, of whom 416 were African American. In Florida, 47
black citizens were lynched during the same period. It was open
season on African Americans, with minute violations of southern
racial codes often sufficient to warrant execution. So violent did
the communities become that public notices were placed in newspapers
inviting people to come and watch the burning of a live Negro. Florida
was part and parcel of this frenzied violence. In
addition to the 47 blacks who died by lynching, the Klan attacked the
black community of Ocoee, Florida, in the western part of Orange
County, in November 1920 and destroyed several homes when two local
black citizens--Mose Norman and July Perry
attempted to vote.
Approximately six black residents and two whites were killed in the
violence, and twenty-five black homes, two churches, and a lodge were
destroyed At Perry, in December 1922, one month before the
Rosewood incident, a white school teacher was murdered by an
escaped convict. The man and an alleged accomplice were quickly
captured by the sheriff and placed in the Perry jail. Local whites,
joined by men from as far away as Georgia and South Carolina, took
the two black men from the Sheriff and his deputies and badly beat
Charlie Wright, the fugitive convict, hoping to extract a confession
and to determine if others was involved. Wright, however, refused to
indict any one else in the crime. He was subsequently burned at the
stake, and two other black men, who were suspected of being involved
in the teacher's murder, were shot and hanged, although they were
never implicated in the crime. Following the murders, the white mob
turned against the entire black community and burned their church, masonic lodge, amusement hall, and black
school. Several homes were
The Perry story, recounted on the front page of the Gainesville
Sun from December 4-13, left the area's white and black citizens in a
state of high tension. The day after events in Perry concluded, the
Sun reported that two blacks killed a white farmer at Jacobs, Florida,
near Marianna. Whites lived in great fear, apparently persuaded that
blacks were bent on randomly killing whites. Black residents of the
area seemed to understand that they were sitting on a tinder box
that might well explode again at any moment. In less than a month the
black community of Rosewood felt the iron hand of the white mob.
ROSEWOOD AND THE RACIAL
Lynching had become so common in the United States, especially
in the South, that in 1921 Representative L. C. Dyer of Missouri
introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to make lynching a
federal crime. Dyer acted out of conscience but also at the strong
behest of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People. The bill passed the House, but Southerners in the Senate
organized a filibuster that prevented a vote, resulting in the
measure's failure and leaving the states to deal with the lynching
problem. Although the number of lynchings had
declined from sixty-
four in 1921 to fifty-seven in 1922, the record was
not a source of
pride. In the year just ended, fifty-one of the victims were blacks
and six were whites. Texas led the nation with eighteen. It was
followed by Georgia, eleven; Mississippi, nine; Florida, five; Arkansas,
five; Louisiana, three; Alabama, two; Tennessee, two; Oklahoma, one;
It is doubtful that the handful of residents in
Rosewood, Florida, ever read the Tuskegee report. Yet its citizens would be
victims of racial violence in 1923 and several would be murdered. In
the first week of January, Rosewood was the center of what became
known variously as a riot, a massacre, and a race war. A small hamlet
of twenty-five or thirty families in LevyCounty, Rosewood was
largely populated by blacks. Elsie Collins Campbell, a white woman of
Cedar Key, once lived at Rosewood, and was about three years old at
the time of the disturbance. She remembered the village as one of
green forests. This view is shared universally by blacks and
whites when they describe the community's dominant features.
Population estimates of the settlement nestled along the Seaboard
Air Line Railroad vary, but none of them place it as being large.
Rosewood and nearby Sumner constituted a precinct of 307 people in
1910 (158 whites, 128 blacks, and 21 mulattoes); by 1920 the
population had more than doubled to 638, except now blacks were a
majority with 344 people, while white residents numbered 294. The
Rosewood voting precinct in 1920 had 355 African Americans.
Rosewood is located nine miles east of Cedar Key in
western LevyCounty which was established March 10, 1845. What became the village of Rosewood--section 29, township 14 south: range 24 east--
was first surveyed in 1847. By 1855 seven homesteads were strung
out along a dirt trail leading to Cedar Key and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Florida Railroad connecting Cedar Key with Fernandina opened in
1861. Rosewood took its name from the abundant red cedar that grew
in the area. By 1870 the market value of cedar and the commercial
production of oranges, as well as vegetable farming and limited
cotton cultivation, justified a railroad station and small depot at
Rosewood. The cedar was cut in the Rosewood vicinity, shipped by
rail to Cedar Key on the Seaboard Airline Railway, which had replaced
the Florida Railroad, and processed there at two large international
pencil mills. The finished timber was then sent by boats to New York
factories and fashioned into lead pencils.
Prosperity meant the establishment of a post office
voting precinct in 1870. Black and white families moved in, and
although the hamlet became a small village, Rosewood was never
incorporated. The county opened a school for whites, and soon a
privately owned hotel for whites began registering guests. Whites
established a Methodist church in 1878, and blacks followed in 1883
with their own African Methodist Episcopal church. Pleasant Hill, a
second AME church, was founded in 1886.
By 1890 the red cedar had been cut out, forcing the
the pencil mills at Cedar Key. The community had a black majority by
1900, as white families moved out, leasing or selling their land to
blacks. The post office and school closed, relocating to the site of a
new cypress mill that opened in Sumner, a village three miles west of
But Rosewood survived. Some of its male residents
work at the large saw mill in Sumner; a number of Rosewood's black
women worked at Sumner as part-time domestics for white families.
Some men worked at a turpentine still located at Wylly, a small
settlement one mile to the east. Other Rosewood blacks worked for
the black-owned M. Goins & Brothers' Naval
stores company in
Rosewood. The company prospered by distilling turpentine and rosin
obtained from the large tracts of pine trees growing nearby. Housing
for some laborers was in Rosewood's "Goins
Quarters," and at its peak
the Goins brothers' operation owned or leased
acres of land. Other African Americans made their living by small
scale farming and by trapping in the vast Gulf Hammock that
surrounded the area. Gulf Hammock was also the name of a village six
miles south of Rosewood. Although some whites moved away, others
remained so that Rosewood was never exclusively a black settlement.
The village's largest total population was seven hundred in 1915; in
1923 blacks made up the majority.
Facing a number of law suits from competing white
land rights, the Goins family terminated their
operations, and by 1916
had removed to Gainesville in adjoining AlachuaCounty. Even so,
Rosewood maintained its sense of community. A number of black owned
businesses continued to operate. There was a general store owned
by a white family and another by a black family. One black operated a
sugar mill. Blacks organized a private school and hired Mrs. Mullah
Brown as the teacher. The community baseball team, the Rosewood
Stars, had their own playing field (near the depot) and played home
and home games against teams in Levy and surrounding counties.
In 1920 Rosewood had three churches, a train
station, a large
one-room black masonic hall, and a black
school. There were several
unpainted plank wood two-story homes and perhaps a dozen two-room
homes that often included a lean-to or a half-roofed room. There
were also a number of small one-room shanties, some of them
The events that culminated in the Rosewood affair
began on the
morning of January 1, 1923, at Sumner, the neighboring saw mill
Residents would remember the winter as one of the coldest on record.
Frances ("Fannie") Taylor, a twenty-two-year-old married woman,
whose husband James Taylor (thirty) had gone to work at Cummer
Sons saw mill at Sumner, was home alone. Fred Kirkland and Elmer
Johnson, two whites who were young men in 1923, remembered seventy
years later that Taylor's job at the mill required him to oil the
equipment before the other workers arrived. It was his habit, once he
got the mill started, to return home for breakfast.
Deed records do not indicate that the Taylors owned property
in Sumner. Their residence, said to have been surrounded by a picket
fence, was probably owned by the Cummer Lumber
company was headquartered in Jacksonville. Large operations were
begun in LevyCounty in 1910 when the company purchased land for a
railroad right of way. Several hundred men, whites and blacks, were
employed at the mill whose main wood product was cypress lumber. The
company's "quarters" were segregated by race. Another large
force worked in the surrounding woods and swamps cutting timber and
transporting it to the mill. From 1910 through the 1920s (it burned in
1927 and was never replaced), the company was engaged in a large
number of real estate transactions.
James Taylor had married Fannie Coleman on April 25, 1917, a day
when they went to the courthouse at Bronson and had County Judge
John R. Willis perform the ceremony. Some accounts claim that by 1923
the Taylors had two small sons. The census for 1920 noted that the Taylors had a one-year-old daughter named Bernice.
According to Fannie Taylor's version of events, a
came on foot to her house that morning and knocked. When she opened
the door the man proceeded to "assault" her. From most
intruder did not consummate the act of rape, although he beat her
about the head and face. Some versions of the event claimed that she
was both raped and robbed. Fannie Taylor's cries for help attracted
the attention of neighbors, and her assailant fled, supposedly headed
south for Gulf Hammock, a dense expanse of swamps covered with
jungle-growth vines, palmettoes, and forests.
Although Fannie Taylor
was not seriously injured and was able to describe what happened,
the shock of the assault rendered her unconscious for several hours.
Because no one ever disputed that some kind of physical attack took
place, the incident was never referred to as an "alleged attack."
The white community was practically unanimous in its
that the man who assaulted Fannie Taylor was black. That view was
not challenged in contemporary accounts, but a number of blacks
whose families were involved in the trouble disagree with the white
version of events.
Lee Ruth Bradley Davis, who was a month away from
birthday when the attack occurred, lived in Rosewood with her father
John Wesley Bradley and her brothers and sisters in 1923. She was
the seventh of nine children: Hoyt, Kellie, Bradley, Donarie,
Sylvester, Ivory Lee (herself), Wesley James, and Clift.
Bradley, her mother, was dead. Davis based her account on stories
told to her by her father (who was involved in the week's events), by
her grandmother Sarah Carrier, her cousin Philomena Carrier, by
other principals, and by her own memory.
According to Davis, it was a white man who visited Fannie Taylor
that New Year's morning. Never identified by name, he supposedly
worked for the Sea Board Air Line railroad. He got off the train and
was seen entering the Taylor
house by Sarah Carrier and her
granddaughter Philomena. Sarah Carrier was employed by Fannie
Taylor on a weekly basis to do her washing and ironing. On occasion
but not that day Sarah took her youngest son and her grandson,
Arnett Turner Goins, with her to stack wood for the
She worked for other white employers as well. That morning the woman
and the young girl had, as usual, walked from Rosewood and arrived at
the same time that the white man entered the Taylor house. (Present
day family members, including Arnett Turner Goins,
declare that Sarah
Carrier remembered having seen the same man visit Fannie Taylor on
several previous occasions). The white visitor remained a while,
reemerged, and left sometime before . It is not known if
James Taylor came home for breakfast, but about he returned
home (perhaps for lunch) and his wife told him that a black man had
Some African Americans in the area contended
privately at the
time, even as black descendants contend publicly today, that the man
who visited Fannie Taylor was her white lover. For some reason they
quarreled, and after physically abusing her, the man left. Then the
white woman protected herself by fabricating the story of being
attacked by a black man.
Fannie Taylor's version of the assault was the one
the white community of Sumner, and the news spread rapidly. Soon a
posse under the direction of LevyCounty's Sheriff Robert Elias
Walker, popularly known as Bob, was formed to search for the
unidentified felon. Walker
was a longtime LevyCounty resident.
According to the Tampa Morning Tribune, "The entire county is
aroused, and virtually every able bodied man has joined in the
search." Sheriff Walker obtained a pack of bloodhounds from
Captain H. H. Henderson at Convict Camp Number 17, FortWhite, near
High Springs in neighboring AlachuaCounty. There is some
evidence that the manhunt was begun before the dogs arrived, and
that the posse used a single dog initially.
Although the lawman headed a deputized posse, the
soon joined by numerous other men who converged from several
locales. By Tuesday night a crowd estimated at between four hundred
and five hundred people combed the woods. It was logistically
difficult, if not impossible, for all of them to be sworn in as deputies.
Many of the men were, in fact, independent agents who formed their
own search parties and pursued their own extra-legal
Jason McElveen, a white
resident of Sumner, would remember
Sheriff Walker's concern. He told McElveen,
"I don't know what to do."
The lawman added, "this crowd wants blood, and they [are] going to
have blood." McElveen told the sheriff,
"Bob, keep them [the posses]
out of the colored quarters in the mill [at Sumner]....We knew if we
could keep them niggers in the mill we could keep them straight, but we
knew if we let them out of there the farmers [white posse members]
would get them."
The assault on Fannie Taylor and the search for the
whom she accused of committing the crime were the initial incidents in
the story of the Rosewood tragedy. What happened in the week of
January 1-8, was reported across the state and
nation by the
Associated Press. The AP correspondent or correspondents who
supplied the Rosewood stories to black and white newspapers were
never identified with by-lines. Because AP reports were often filed
the same day from different locales, it is probable that there were
several "stringers" (part-time reporters who were paid by the
The accounts went out by telegram and telephone to various towns
and cities where they were picked up and edited further to fit space
and local interest needs. Most newspapers--from the New York Times
to the Gainesville Daily Sun in Florida--credited the AP as their
source. A few journals gave no source, even though their accounts
were obviously supplied by the AP. Some newspapers printed their
own stories when there was a local angle germane to the event.
Beyond the AP dispatches, a number of newspapers reacted
editorially. This was more true of the black
journals than of their
white counterparts. Besides the AP's coverage, the black newspaper,
the Chicago Defender, ran an account authored by Eugene Brown, and
another unsigned story was used by a black newspaper, the St. Louis
Argus. Presumably both reporters were black. Their versions of
events were at odds with those of the AP.
In LevyCounty suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, a black man
serving time on a convict road gang for having carried concealed
weapons. Hunter had just escaped from a crew working on what is now
State Road 24 (other reports had it that he was laboring in a
turpentine camp, under Florida's
notorious convict lease
system). Hunter was reported as having been in the vicinity
Rosewood. Sometime before the assault, he was allegedly seen in the
company of Sam Carter, a forty-five-year-old black man who resided
mid-way between Rosewood and Sumner. Carter, a blacksmith, had
previously had a brush with the law in 1920. He was accused of
attempting a felony by assaulting a LevyCounty deputy sheriff with
a shotgun. The grand jury declined to find a true bill against him, and
Carter was set free.
Apparently that same day (Monday, January 1) Sheriff
arrested two blacks who were suspects and put them in jail at
Bronson, the county seat. The AP story did not identify the two men,
but, as will be seen, one of them was Aaron Carrier, member of the
close knit Carrier family in Rosewood, a community bonded by families
related to each other by marriage and by long time associations. Walker's real suspect was Jesse Hunter, and the search
Carter, wanted for whatever information he might have and to
determine the extent of his implication.
As reported in the newspapers, that same New Year's
bloodhounds led a posse to Sam Carter's home. The occupant of the
house admitted that he hid one of the men wanted (newspaper accounts
never said that the man hidden at Carter's house was Hunter). Carter
further admitted to hitching up his horse and wagon and driving the
fugitive away (presumably back toward Rosewood). Carter then led
the posse to a spot where he and the fugitive parted ways. The
bloodhounds were unable to pick up a scent. Angry and thinking they
had been duped, the group abandoned whatever pretext
possessed as a legal posse and became little more than a lynch mob.
When Carter did not answer all questions satisfactorily, he was
tortured and his body was riddled with bullets and then hanged from a
tree. According to the Associated Press, his corpse was left lying in
the road where it was discovered the next morning (Tuesday, January
Fred Kirkland, a seventeen-year-old white boy, and
happened to be in Sumner on the day of the assault. In 1993 Fred
recalled that his father and uncle, O. B. and
Garret Kirkland, were
members of the posse that captured Carter. Kirkland's memory of the
assault and its aftermath conforms basically with the accounts of
contemporary newspapers. The murder of Sam Carter marked the
initial death in the unfolding drama. With so many men scouring the
area, Sheriff Walker must have considered the tracking dogs of no
further value, and, in any event, he returned the bloodhounds to the FortWhite convict camp the next day (Tuesday, January 2). The
county commissioners later voted a payment of $50 for their use. It
should be noted that while many posse members were outsiders, a
number of them were whites who worked at the sawmill
in Sumner. They
continued working at their regular daytime shifts and early in the
week, some of them joined the search at night. No contemporary
accounts mentioned that black mill laborers were members of the
posse. Their absence was deliberate.
The contemporary newspaper reports are at variance
accounts given later by black survivors and their descendants.
According to Lee Ruth Davis, who got the story from her father, John
Bradley, the white lover of Fannie Taylor realized that he was in
trouble and went to the home of Sam Carter. He told Carter that he
was a mason and needed help. Carter, a tall man with Indian features,
was a member of the black Masonic Lodge # 148 in Rosewood. The masonic ties of fraternity and brotherhood reached
barrier of race, and Carter agreed to help him. Carter hitched his
horse to a wagon or cart and carried the fugitive to the house of
Aaron Carrier, twenty-six, also a mason, who lived in Rosewood.
Carrier agreed to help, and gave the white man a meal. Then the three
men left in Carter's wagon and took a road into Gulf Hammock,
proceeding until they reached water (probably the WaccasassaRiver).
There the fugitive escaped in a boat, and Carter and Carrier returned
to their homes.
Arnett Doctor, the son of Philomena Carrier, the
young girl who
witnessed with her grandmother the white man enter and later leave
Fannie Taylor's house, recounted in 1993 a slightly different account
from that of Lee Ruth Davis. Doctor is the leader in the Carrier and
related families' current efforts to research and make public the
events at Rosewood. Doctor's version was based, in part, on
conversations that he later had with family members, including Aaron
Carrier. Supposedly, the white fugitive, aware that no train
would be running soon, sought to leave the area. As an employee of
the Seaboard Air Line railroad he knew Aaron Carrier, a World War I
veteran, and many other people in Rosewood and Sumner. Aware that
Carrier was a mason, he went first to Carrier's house seeking aid.
The two men went in Carrier's wagon to the home of fellow mason Sam
Carter, and from there the three men carried out the successful
escape described by Lee Ruth Davis. Arnett Turner Goins,
years-old in 1923, gave a deposition seventy years later that
paralleled Arnett Doctor's version.
Another part of the story surrounding the death of
was not described in the newspapers comes from the deposition of
Minnie Lee Mitchell Langley given on June 2, 1992. Ten at the time of
the Rosewood affair, she and her brother, Reuben, were the children
of Theodore and Daisy Mitchell. Minnie Lee Langley's mother died when
she was a baby, and she and her brother were raised by her
grandparents James and Emma Carrier. According to her, the
grandparents, like many other blacks in Rosewood, owned their land.
Emma Carrier also raised her own children: Lorna, Carol, Rita Carrier
Williams (her married name), Beulah, Wade, Eddie, J. C. and perhaps more.
Aaron was also her son. James Carrier had suffered two strokes.
Incapacitated for mill work, he earned his living trapping and selling
hides. Emma Carrier milked cows and performed other chores for
whites and occasionally sold eggs and vegetables at the Rosewood
railroad station. The family owned its own cow and had a garden that
was planted in, among other vegetables, sweet potatoes and
peas. The young girl and her brother referred to James and
Emma Carrier as mama and papa and to their uncles and aunts as their
brothers and sisters.
Minnie Lee Langley went to school in a large
building located next to the masonic lodge.
The all black student body
was taught by the previously mentioned Mullah Brown. On New Year's
Day 1923, Minnie Lee Langley remembered that at dark "Mama and we all
was standing out in the yard and...here come a gang
coming down the railroad." A black man leading a dog was with
How many men were there? As Minnie Lee Langley put it, "There's so
many...all kinds, horseback, some...riding them little buggy cars down
the dirt roads, some of them was in the railroad, just as far as you
can see them." She estimated there were between
100-150 in the
crowd. Some of the men wore "them big ole' tall hats,"
and neither she
nor her grandmother had ever seen or knew any of the people. When
asked if she had witnessed anybody pass, Emma Carrier replied
negatively, and the posse went down the road to Aaron Carrier's
house. The man with the dog went into the black man's house and came
out by the back door.
One member of the posse came back to Emma Carrier's
where Aaron was, and she identified him as her son. According to the
story, Aaron was sick in bed. The probable reason was that Aaron
Carrier needed an alibi if he was accused of helping Fannie Taylor's
attacker escape. At any event, the posse dragged Carrier from his
bed and took him to a stand of pine trees, and there was much talk
about getting a rope and hanging him. At that point, a man named
Edward Pillsbury, the son of W. H. Pillsbury, who ran the Cummer
mill and for whom Sarah Carrier worked from time to time, got Carrier
away from his captors. Some stories also credit Sheriff Walker with
helping Carrier escape. Carrier was placed in the back seat of
Pillsbury's car, laid down, and taken to the safety of the jail in
Bronson [Minnie Lee Langley said he was driven to Gainesville, but
more likely it was Bronson].
The posse also confronted a man named Sylvester
thirty-two, and ordered him out of town. Carrier told them that he
lived in Rosewood and planned to remain there. With the death of Sam
Carter, the near lynching of Aaron Carrier, and threats against
Sylvester Carrier, the tension mounted. Sylvester Carrier took the
lead in suggesting that various family members go to the home of his
mother, Sarah Carrier, where he could protect them better. Sarah
Carrier had a comfortable two-story home in Rosewood. Besides
washing and ironing for Fannie Taylor, she worked sometimes for D. P.
"Poly" Wilkerson, an official at the mill in Sumner. Sarah
known and highly respected in the area. She was married to
Hayward J. Carrier. While it is unknown when the couple moved to the
Rosewood area, they bought an acre of land there on February 23,
1901. The Carriers
paid S. C. and J. J. Cason $60 for the property
that was located close to the railroad right of way.
According to Minnie Lee Langley, the posse took Carter in a wagon to
a place near the railroad station in Rosewood. The depot was close
to a baseball field and near the home of the previously mentioned
Sylvester Carrier--a black hunter, marksman, and music teacher--who
would become a central figure over the next few days. Sylvester
Carrier, proud and independent, had married Mattie Mitilda
strikingly attractive woman with long hair, in November 1912. Highly
regarded in the community, Sylvester was active in Rosewood's AME
church, even though he and his father had served prison time in 1910
for changing brands on livestock. Minnie Lee Langley said that the
white men took Carter into some woods behind Sylvester Carrier's
house where they hanged and shot him. No blacks witnessed the
lynching of Carter, but news spread rapidly, and the black community
expected more trouble to follow.
Gary Moore, a free lance journalist who has studied
Rosewood events for twelve years, wrote in the Miami Herald's Tropic
magazine March 7, 1993, that the men who captured Carter
overpowered Sheriff Walker and took his weapon. Moore, who has
contributed to this report with a synopsis of his research, has
concluded that a World War I veteran named Bryant Kirkland, shot
Carter first. It is certain that during the episode several men fired
shots into Carter's body. Young Ernest Parham, a white boy, followed
the tracking party, saw the capture of Carter, and witnessed his
death by shooting. According to Parham a non-resident of the area
shot Carter first.
If, as the newspapers reported, Carter's body was
found on the
road or if he was hanged and shot in Rosewood, as the black families
contend, a coroner's jury was called on Tuesday to review his death.
The six-man jury issued its report the same day: "We the Jury after
the examination of the said Sam Carter who being found lying dead,
find that the said Sam Carter came to his death by being shot by
unknown party [or parties] so say we all." The report was signed
L. Johnson, a justice of the peace, in the absence of a coroner.
Tuesday (January 2) and Wednesday (January 3) were
and were spent in a fruitless search for Hunter and another black
said to have been implicated. Then on Thursday, January 4, violence
broke out on a large scale. Early that evening reports were received
in Sumner that a group of blacks had taken refuge in Rosewood. No
one believed that Jesse Hunter was among them, but the situation led
to an investigation by a "party of citizens" who went to Rosewood
investigate. They were particularly interested in locating Sylvester
Carrier. Ernest Parham, the white youth, explained in his interview
that Carrier "was a little bit different than the rest of the
He considered himself the protector of his family and kin. Carrier,
already unpopular with certain whites because of his spirit and
manner, had supposedly remarked that the assault on Fannie Taylor
was "an example of what [Negroes] could do without interference."
The whites planned to warn Carrier against further incendiary talk
and to discover what he or the others knew about Hunter. Jason McElveen, a white participant, recalled that the
news of Sylvester
Carrier's alleged statement "was just about like throwing gasoline on
a fire when you tell a bunch of white people that." He added,
of [whites] gathered up and went up there to see them. I didn't have
anything but a twelve-gauge shotgun--a pumpgun--with
There were white men who declined to participate in
manhunt. One was the town barber of Cedar Key. Another resident
the town refused even to loan his gun to anyone. He did not want to
"have his hands wet with blood," which seemed to be the clear
intention of these white residents.
On arriving at Rosewood the posse found a group of
Americans, estimates would vary later but the usual figures ranged
between fifteen and twenty-five, barricaded in Sarah Carrier's house.
The white posse apparently had six men initially, a figure which, if
accurate, was quickly swelled to many times that number. The whites
deliberated about how to accomplish their mission, and particularly
how to discover Hunter's whereabouts.
Finally, two men, Henry Andrews, forty-two,
the Cummer Lumber Company's saw mill, and C. P.
forty-five, a Sumner merchant and mill official, boldly approached the
house. Wilkerson, a large man who weighed well over two hundred
pounds, and Andrews, short but stocky and powerful, mounted the
porch steps and attempted to enter. According to newspaper
descriptions, the blacks inside opened fire (those who were armed had
shotguns mainly), and the two white men fell dead. Some accounts had
the whites firing the first shots. Andrews and Wilkerson were the
second and third persons to be killed since Monday. The whites
rapidly cordoned off the house and surrounded the building. As
described by the Jacksonville Times-Union, they began "to pour a hail
of lead into it." From inside their fire was returned. It
unknown whether any blacks other than Sylvester Carrier answered
the whites' fire. Four more white men were wounded, including M. T.
(Cecil?) "Sephis" Studstill
of Sumner, shot in the arm; Bryan Kirkland
of Sumner (also reported as Warner Kirkland of Rosewood); Mannie
Hudson of Sumner, scalp wound; and Henry Odum of
worked at Otter Creek, a settlement on the railroad a few miles north
of Rosewood, shot through the neck. Other unnamed whites were also
wounded. The fusillade continued.
Even by modern standards, the news story was swiftly
As buckshot impacted and rifle bullets whined and the outcome
remained undecided, an AP reporter telephoned the details from Cedar
Key to the Gainesville Daily Sun. Acting on requests from unnamed
people (most likely Sheriff Walker and town officials), the reporter
asked the Sun to contact AlachuaCounty's Sheriff P. G. Ramsey and
have him start immediately for Rosewood with as many men as he could
assemble. That was done, and by on Friday morning Sheriff
Ramsey, Chief Deputy Dunning, and several car
loads of deputies and
armed citizens were preparing to leave for LevyCounty. In Florida, sheriffs and deputies of one county rarely
county on an official mission unless requested by the local sheriff.
Such an appeal to AlachuaCounty officials was a statement of how
grave the situation was perceived by LevyCounty whites.
It appears that among those coming from Gainesville
several members of the Ku Klux Klan, who had held a major rally in
Gainesville on January 1, that was announced in the Gainesville Sun.
A large crowd, including some Northern tourists, watched as an
estimated one hundred Klansmen in full regalia paraded through
downtown Gainesville. The white-clad figures carried banners
proclaiming their opposition to bootleggers, gamblers, and cheating
lawyers. One placard declared, "First And Always--Protect
Womanhood." The KKK motorcade disappeared into Gainesville's black
section only to emerge at the square an hour later. Then the hooded
principals dispersed into the night.
It is possible, even probable, that Klansmen did in
fact come to
Rosewood, but they did not wear their regalia. The Klan, as an
organization, was never specifically accused of participating in the
riot. Beyond that, neither Ruth Lee Davis, Minnie Lee
their various family members and kin claimed that any of the posse
members wore hoods.
At Rosewood the battle was still in progress at in the
morning of Friday, January 5. One newspaper reported white
authorities as believing that unless the blacks surrendered "they
will be smoked out." At some point one of the attackers,
with a flashlight, worked his way across the open space between the
crowd and the house. He climbed through a darkened window, switched
on his flashlight, cast its beam on the crouching blacks, and shouted
to his white comrades to fire. One of the blacks quickly shot
bullet struck the intruder's head, inflicting a serious wound. The
injured man fell through the window to the ground and was
rescued. The next day an unnamed official of the Cummer Lumber
Company stated that an unidentified white man had been shot in the
head and was dying. This may have been the person who managed to get
into the Carrier house, but he remained unidentified and was never
listed among the dead or wounded.
There were no other attempts to enter the
house. The blacks
seemed well supplied with arms and ammunition, and the bright
moonlight made the attackers such easy targets that they contented
themselves with a siege. Desultory firing from a safe distance
ceased around 4 a. m. when the whites' ammunition ran low. More shells
and bullets were ordered from Gainesville, as they waited for
daylight before making another move.
Blacks were able to use the cease fire to make good
escape. They fled into the nearby woods and swamps and were joined
by the other blacks in Rosewood who feared that they would also be
attacked. Early on Friday morning the whites approached the house.
They retrieved the bodies of Andrews and Wilkerson and took them to
their homes where preparations were made for their burials. Both
men were well known in LevyCounty. On entering the house whites
discovered the bodies of Sylvester Carrier and his mother Sarah
Carrier, who had been shot to death. The death toll had now risen to
five. Bloodstains were seen, and it was apparent that a number of
blacks had been wounded. Thwarted by the escape and angered by the
deaths of two whites and the wounding of several others, the
"infuriated" whites quickly "tore down pictures, smashed furniture,
and completely ransacked the black dwelling." Descendants of
the Carriers and of other black families of Rosewood do not believe
that Sylvester Carrier was killed. They contend that he escaped and
died several years later in Texas.
The white mob now acted without restraint. It
is unknown what
attempts Sheriff Walker made to stop the angry whites or what
assistance Sheriff Ramsey was able to render. In any case, the mob
burned the Carrier home so that "nothing but ashes was [sic] left to
tell the tale of the gun fight." They next burned five more
houses and a church in the black section. Lexie
Gordon, about fifty, a
black woman with a light complexion who had hidden under her house,
fled when it was set on fire. She sought escape by running toward a
clump of bushes in the rear of the blazing building, but was shot to
death. Lexie Gordon became the sixth victim.
Rosewood was depopulated as the terrorized African
left. Margie Hall, fifteen at the time, remembered later that her
family's reaction was typical. Yet her parents, Charles B. and Mary
Hall, who had four daughters and five sons, were not a typical black
Rosewood family. Hall owned several farms, was a Baptist preacher,
and was the village's only black store owner. The family lived in a
two-story building, and, as Margie remembered the night of January 4,
"all of us children were in bed and my mother was gone to bed. She
came into our room and woke us up and said, 'Y'all getup, they're
shooting.'" Once awake, Margie continued, "we didn't have
time to put
any clothes on. We just jumped up and ran out of the house and took
off into the woods going toward Wylly."
Years after the incident, Mae McDonald's mother,
told her she fled with her parents George and Mary Bradley and other
family members. They did not have time to dress properly for the cold
weather before entering the nearby protective woods and swamps.
The frightened young Ruth believed the white men were searching for
any blacks they could find. According to Mae McDonald, her mother
"said anything that was black or looked black was killed."
At Sumner a group of armed men surrounded the black
and no one was permitted to go on the streets. As the forceful,
stocky, dark complexioned W. H. Pillsbury explained, "I want to keep
everything quiet here at Sumner. The important thing for us is to
keep our own negroes busy at work, and prevent any spreading of the
trouble. We all hope that the negro sought will be captured at once
and put an end to this rioting. Every effort is being made to prevent
any spread of the race trouble to Sumner." After the first
reaction to the assault on Fannie Taylor, Pillsbury persuaded his
white workers to remain in Sumner and not join the posses. He also
got the whites to keep order in Sumner. Pillsbury was aided by
another white man named Johnson who was the mill foreman. A
similar precaution was taken at Bronson. That same Friday morning
three hundred blacks went to work as usual in Sumner at the Cummer
Lumber Company. Several blacks who attempted to leave town were
turned back by Sheriff Walker. Guards
were stationed around the
village to keep blacks who had fled into the woods from
State newspapers reported the events at Rosewood in
headlines and some took large liberties in describing what was
happening. According to the Miami Daily Metropolis, which headlined
its story, MANY DIE IN FLORIDA
RACE WAR, "Deputized posses and
citizens said to be numbering in the thousands were pouring into this
village early this morning [Thursday]. Automobile after automobile
heavily laden with armed men have arrived, some
coming from a
distance of about 75 miles." A few out-of-state
equally guilty of distorting the news. The Chicago Defender, a black
newspaper, ran a story by Eugene Brown, who filed his account from Tallahassee. Brown based his exaggerated report on what
he was told
from an on-the-scene informant. Supposedly, Ted Cole, an ex-soldier
from Chicago had just come to Rosewood, and it was he who
blacks to resist the attack on the Carrier house. According to Brown,
the veteran used combat skills acquired in World War I to good effect,
managing the stand-off exchange between blacks and whites. The
reporter also claimed that nineteen people were killed. The
Defender's account seems to have been largely fictional.
On Friday afternoon a seventh death occurred.
Mingo Williams, a
black turpentine worker about fifty, whose nickname was Lord God,
was killed when he was shot through the jaw (or through the head).
His body was found on the road near Bronson, some twenty miles from
Rosewood. Williams had no known connection with the trouble at
Rosewood and apparently encountered part of the white mob, many of
whom had been drinking and were indiscriminately seeking black
victims. The posse still fluctuated between two hundred and three
hundred men and continued its macabre mission. By nightfall Sheriff
Walker told the AP that more trouble was imminent because relatives
of the slain blacks were believed to be armed and were expected to
cause trouble, although most were hiding in the woods fearful of
their lives. Sheriff Ramsey and his deputies returned to Gainesville on Friday afternoon because they believed local
had matters under "fairly good control."
Sheriff Walker's statement that "more trouble
was imminent" was
inconsistent with his communication to Governor Cary Hardee in Tallahassee. Learning about the turbulent conditions at
from the AP dispatches, the governor sent a telegram early Friday
morning to Sheriff Walker. He asked for a situation report. As
commander-in-chief of the Florida National Guard, Governor Hardee
wanted advice on whether to call out the troops. There were various
national guard units in several Florida cities (Jacksonville had
seven), including Company E 154th Infantry at Live Oak, and Company H
at LakeCity. Throughout the day the governor waited for a reply. He
and his staff closely followed all press bulletins, but Hardee refused
to commit himself to action based on unofficial reports.
That afternoon the governor felt comfortable enough
hunting despite the many verified deaths in Rosewood. Standing by
was his secretary, Professor L. B. Edwards. Late in the afternoon a
telegram arrived from Sheriff Walker. No copy of the telegram exists
in the governor's papers, but various newspaper stories noted that
the message did not go into details. The sheriff briefly told Hardee
that local authorities had the situation under control. There was no
need to activate the national guard according to Walker. As
events turned out, the situation was not under control, but the
governor accepted the opinion of the LevyCounty sheriff and never
sent in the national guard.
The Oklahoma City Black Dispatch described
developments in Tallahassee differently. The journal reported on the
riot in close
detail but was dependent upon AP stories. It reported: "Although
Governor Hardee, when informed on the outbreak, announced that he
would send troops to dispel the mob, it was still intact Friday night,
numbering between two and three hundred armed men, and was scouring
the surrounding country in search for Jesse
respected and influential national publication, the Nation, was
critical of the governor: "There has been no indication that the
authorities of LevyCounty or of the State of Florida were even
interested in the fate of the Negroes."
That same day (Friday, January 5) a black man
physical description of Hunter was arrested in Lakeland, about 130
miles south of Rosewood. Two deputies and two citizens of Rosewood
who knew Hunter went to Lakeland.
They arrived and concluded that,
although the prisoner closely resembled the fugitive, he was not
Hunter. The chief of police at Lakeland, noting that the Rosewood
people "didn't look as if they would stand much foolishness," held
man over on other charges. The search continued.
James Carrier, brother of Sylvester and son of Sarah
killed in the Thursday night ambuscade, was one of the besieged
occupants who escaped. On Saturday morning he left his hideout in a
nearby swamp and returned to Rosewood. There he asked W. H.
Pillsbury, the white superintendent of the Cummer
protection. Pillsbury obliged and locked Carrier in one of the
remaining houses in Rosewood's black section. Later in the day, as
the Jacksonville Times-Union put it, "when a new clash became
imminent, the negro was turned over to...twenty-five or thirty
Carrier was taken to the black graveyard.
There beside the
fresh graves of his mother and brother (and perhaps other black
victims who may have been buried there), Carrier was interrogated.
He probably was questioned and tortured before being taken to the
graves, and it is certain that the grilling continued there. His
inquisitors demanded the names of the people in the house who had
participated in the shooting. They especially wanted to know if Jesse
Hunter was one of them. Carrier admitted that he had been in the
house and escaped. Yet he refused to name the other blacks. His
captors then shot him several times and left his body stretched
across one of the graves. The body count now numbered eight.
Later in the day Sheriff Walker oversaw Carrier's
his family members. Walker and other officers reported on Saturday
night that the entire vicinity was quiet. Whether the story
true or not, it was reported that several of the blacks who were in
the Carrier house had been arrested and spirited away for
safekeeping. The captured men allegedly reported that there had
been eighteen people in the house.
The Baltimore Afro-American, like other black
papers, picked up
the AP stories and was incensed by events in LevyCounty. The black
paper, particularly angered by the killing of James Carrier, published
a blistering editorial. It noted that Carrier had spurned offers of
immunity if he revealed the names of his compatriots and had ignored
threats to "shoot him to hell" if he did not. The admiring
American declared, "The 'Uncle Toms,' the South loved are gone
forever, and in their place have grown up heroes like Uncle Jim
Carrier who died true to his friends and true to his home."
Yet another black Maryland newspaper, the Baltimore Herald,
made a similar argument. "Negroes throughout the country,"
Herald declared, "are in the fullest sympathy and cherish the highest
admiration for the men of the race in Florida who fired into the mob
and killed two of their number. We regard the twenty, or whatever the
number killed as martyrs. They died defending their own lives and in
defence of law and order. Every shot fired into a mob and every
member of a mob killed is in defence of law and order."
In the meantime, the African Americans residents of
remained in hiding and blacks in Sumner and other villages did not
venture from their quarters. At Lenin [probably Lucans],
hamlet located between Rosewood and Cedar Key, nine-year-old Lillie
Burns and various family members watched the proceedings. "We
see the white people in their trucks with their guns sticking up on
the trucks and cars right behind them. This went on all day and all
night," Lillie said. "We could see where they were burning
houses....We could see the balls of black smoke." The Burns, who
kin to the Carriers, gave temporary refuge to five or six Rosewood
At Sumner all blacks who were not at work in the
were kept in the quarters, and a "dead line" was established
the black and white sections. W. H. Pillsbury, the mill superintendent
at Sumner, was given credit and praise by whites for keeping his black
employees working, for restricting them to certain
sections, and for
making the curfew effective--all measures that helped prevent
additional difficulties. No further trouble was expected,
some came on Sunday, January 7.
Following the burning on Friday morning, only twelve
houses were left in Rosewood. On Sunday afternoon a crowd of
whites, estimated at 100-150, gathered and watched as the remaining
houses were torched, one by one. The AP report declared, "The
burning of the houses was carried out deliberately, and, although the
crowd was present all the time, no one could be found who would say
he saw the houses fired." As a result of the burning on
and again on Sunday, "Masses of twisted steel were all that remained
of furniture formerly in the negro homes, [and] several charred
bodies of dogs, and firearms left in the hasty retreat, bore evidence
to the mob's fury which set fire to the negro section of
[Rosewood]...." In Virginia a black newspaper, the Norfolk Journal
and Guide, sardonically appraised events since Friday when Sheriff
Walker informed Governor Hardee that no troops were needed:
"[Walker] told the truth. He proved he could handle
without outside assistance."
Although Hunter remained at large, officers believed
finally had the situation under control. Even so, the Jacksonville
Times-Union commented ominously, "The section however, is still much
aroused by the disturbances." That newspaper, like others,
published little follow up information. On Monday, January 9, the
Times-Union had relegated the story to page seven, giving it a few
lines under the heading "Rosewood Is Quiet After Disturbance."
The black Norfolk Journal and Guide reported the
volatile events but not in much detail. The reason, the paper
explained, was that "news from the seat of the trouble, after the
second day, was suddenly suppressed, so nothing has leaked out as to
how the trouble terminated." Reporting was not that bad, but the
journal had a point. It had a stronger point in stating that the
nation's "undercurrent of hate and lawlessness" could only be dealt
with effectively by court action and due process of law.
for a few homes owned by whites, there was little left to disturb.
Most blacks were still hiding in the woods and swamps. No documented
record has been found that Jesse Hunter was ever captured. The
Rosewood community as African American residents knew it had been
obliterated from the map of Florida.
The Baltimore Afro American of January 12,
1923, ran what
appeared to be two pictures supplied by an "International News
One photograph was of a burning black residence in Rosewood and the
other portrayed a group of white men, women, and children standing by
three graves of blacks who had been killed. The picture of the burning
house was run in the New York Literary Digest on January 20, 1923, as
well as an uncredited picture of whites inspecting
remains of black houses in Rosewood. The latter picture was also
published by the Chicago Defender, January 20, 1923, which further
included a photograph of M. L. Studstill, one of
the white men who was
wounded at the Thursday night battle. Still another photograph was
of a burning house with three whites wielding shotguns and crouched
in the bushes a few feet away. The Literary Digest was the only
white publication to run any pictures.
Today there is a small green highway marker with
lettering that reads Rosewood. What once was the village is now
overgrown with trees and vines, and scattered about are a few bricks
and parts of buildings. Little other physical evidence remains.
The question of how many people died remains,
however, and it
may never be solved. Nor is it certain how many people were in Hayward and Sarah Carrier's house on the night of January
most of them were apparently children. Arnett Turner Goins's
deposition states that Sylvester's wife left Rosewood before
Thursday night. Based on contemporary evidence and accounts, there
were eight deaths, six blacks and two whites. The blacks included
were Sam Carter, Sylvester Carrier, Sarah Carrier, Lexie
Mingo Williams, and James Carrier. The white men were Henry Andrews
and C. P. "Poly" Wilkerson. A story that ran in the Baltimore Afro
American of January 12, 1923, was supplied by a news agency called
"Crusader Service." The article was datelined Rosewood,
and stated, "Eighteen white and colored men and women are known to be
dead." The account did not supply the names and seems to be
inaccurate. It is possible that some of the whites and blacks who
were wounded died later as a result of their injuries, but there is no
documentation to support this thesis.
Jason McElveen, the white
man who participated in the affair,
had a memory extremely at variance with contemporary reports. He
claimed that after the Thursday battle, "they went up there and
buried seventeen niggers out of the house. And I don't know how many
more that they picked out of the woods and the fields about the
area." McElveen's version had it that
"they just took 'em and laid
in the road [and] plowed the furrows, with a big field-plow, extra big
field-plow, fire plow. [They] plowed two big furrows there and put
them niggers in there in the trench and plowed it over." As for
identification, "there is no markings or anything; don't know who they
was, why they was, and they said there was twenty-six of them there."
As a final grisly note, McElveen remembered,
"and after that for the
next four or five years they picked up skulls and things all over Gulf
Hammock--all around Gulf Hammock." Moore's
article in Tropic quotes the statement of James Turner,
a white man who served later as sheriff of LevyCounty. A fourteen-
year-old boy at the time, Turner witnessed the aftermath of the
burning and said that he saw an open mass grave in a pine grove.
Unable to count the bodies he saw there, Turner was told there were
seventeen of them. Some of the black descendants, among them Arnett
Turner Goins, deny that there was an open grave,
and to date no such
site has been found. The descendants vary in their estimates of how
many people were killed. As of now, eight deaths can be documented.
The black residents of Rosewood left the area, never
Those who owned homes and land lost them. In his "Synopsis of
Research: The Destruction of Rosewood, Florida," (28-29), the
journalist Gary Moore puts the number of
destroyed homes at
eighteen. They belonged to John Wesley Bradley, George Bradley, Mary
Ann Hall, Laura Jones, James Carrier, Sarah Carrier, Aaron Carrier,
Hardee Davis, John Coleman, Virginia Smith, James Hall, Lizzie Screen,
Sam Carter, Cornelia Carter, Ransom Edwards, May Ann Hayward, John
McCoy, Ed Bradley, Perry Goins, Sam king, and Lexie Gordon. Moore's
evidence indicates that the homes were substantial dwellings and
well furnished for the time and place.
RECOLLECTIONS OF ROSEWOOD
Adding to the information supplied by newspapers and
contemporary accounts are the recollections of Minnie Lee Langley,
Ruth Davis, and Arnett Turner Goins, who were
children living at
Rosewood in 1923. Their depositions have been cited several times
previously. Before examining the reaction to the affair and
suggesting some conclusions and interpretations, the authors of this
report believe it is useful and informative to see the week of strife
through the eyes of Langley and Davis.
As mentioned previously, the young Minnie Lee
remembered that her Cousin Sylvester Carrier had asked her
grandparents, Emma and James Carrier, to bring the children to the
home of Sarah Carrier, his mother. "It would be a place," he
"where I can protect yall if anything should
happen." The plan was
carried out. On Thursday evening, January 4, shortly after Sarah
returned from one of her jobs the night of gunfire (described on pp.
Asked in her deposition who
was shooting, Minnie Lee answered,
"Crackers, them white people. They was
shooting all in the house and
the first one they killed was my aunt [Sarah]." The shot
through a window and went through Sarah Carrier's head. Minnie and
Lee and the children were upstairs under a mattress when Bernadina,
Sarah's daughter, came up and told them what had happened. The
frightened children huddled closer together, and shortly, Minnie Lee
ran downstairs seeking some adult protection. Sylvester was seated
in a wood bin under the stairway facing the front door. He grabbed
Minnie Lee, and she squatted between his legs.
According to Minnie Lee, Sylvester had a repeating Winchester
rifle [or a shotgun] that he held over her shoulder and fired at the
assailants as they approached. Minnie Lee said, "he was popping
everyone he [saw], if they come in that door, he killed them." Arnett
T. Goins, who was in the house, declared in 1993
that Sylvester Carrier was the dwelling's only black who did any
firing. Minnie Lee
was asked if many whites rushed the door. "Yeah, they done knocked
that door down." Answering the question if the black man shot the
whites, she replied, "Yeah, killing them, pile them up on the
Then "one of the men say let's us go, they done kill almost all
I heard the car crank, the truck they had, they crank it up, and they
After the whites withdrew, Minnie Lee and the
children, who had
undressed for bed and were lightly clothed, slipped out the back door,
"hit that swamp and went through the swamp." Her Aunt Beulah
"Scrappie" Carrier (daughter of James and
Emma) heard about the
trouble and came to get the children. Beulah hid them in the woods
for the next three or four days. How many children hid out?
us....She had all of us and Sarah['s] crew."
Conditions in the woods were extremely harsh.
recalled that "it was cold, man it was cold. Jesus, I never will
that day. It was so cold [that Beulah] had to build a little bitty
And them people was running backwards and forwards
on the hard road
like that." Beulah sent the children to a safer place on
other side of the main road. She directed them across one at a time,
and, once on the other side, they followed instructions to lie down
under the concealment of bushes.
Minnie Lee noted that "All our houses [were
burned every house in that town." That included "Churches and
everything, they left nothing....Took all our chickens and cows and
everything from us....We see the fire burning, when sister came up
there to get us, that fire just leaping over the railroad....Yeah,
bloodhounds, we seen them. They had bloodhounds...."
The ordeal ended due to the efforts of two white
William and John Bryce, who were conductors on the Sea Board Air Line
railroad. The Bryces often bought eggs and
vegetables from Emma
Carrier when the train stopped at the Rosewood depot. Concerned
about Emma and her family's well-being, one or both Bryces
a black man who worked at the depot and told him to have Beulah bring
the children to the station. The arrangements were made, and with no
fanfare the train eased into the depot, took the children on board,
and carried them on a four-hour ride to safety. At Gainesville
friends and relatives took them in.
At the time Minnie Lee and the others did not know
the fate of
James and Emma. As previously related, James Carrier was killed by a
mob on Saturday (January 6) when he refused to name the people who
were in Sarah Carrier's home. According to Minnie Lee, her Aunt Rita
Carrier (later Rita Williams) saw a group of white men capture James.
He was on his way to Sumner where one of his daughters lived. Emma
was much more fortunate. Like the children, she boarded a train and
was taken to Gainesville where she was placed in jail for safe
keeping. Later, Emma and the children were reunited. The family
in Gainesville until 1924 when Emma died. Family members
count her as
a victim. After that Minnie Lee moved to Jacksonville which became
her permanent home. She remembered that other survivors went to Tampa, to Miami, and in general scattered about.
Lee Ruth Bradley (later Lee Ruth Bradley Davis),
cousin, has also provided a valuable deposition. She was the
daughter of John Wesley and Virginia Bradley. John M. Wright, a white
merchant of Rosewood, and Mary Joe Jacobs Wright, his wife, played a
major role in rescuing Lee Ruth and others. Wright had begun buying
land in the Rosewood area in 1907 and continued to purchase and sell
property throughout the 1920s. A longtime LevyCounty resident, he
married Mary Joe Jacobs on April 30, 1898. The merchant enjoyed the
patronage of many blacks, and, as Arnett T. Goins
gave black children free candy and cookies. The Wrights, who had no
children, occupied a two-story home located on the northeast end of
Rosewood about a quarter of a mile from their store. The house was
between the dirt highway and the railroad track. To facilitate
loading, the merchant had constructed a wooden boardwalk from his
store to the depot. Wright befriended many blacks, and as Oliver
Miller, a white native of Sumner who was five-years-old in 1923,
remarked in 1993, "John Wright was the backbone of Rosewood."
On the fateful Thursday (January 4), Wright had
Carrier get John Bradley to bring his four youngest children to
Wright's house. Bradley instructed the older children to hide in the
woods and took Lee Ruth, her sister, and two younger brothers (the
threesome was probably Marion, Wesley James, and Cliff) to the
Wright's place. Bradley did so (family members would not see him again
for two or three months), and the children were taken upstairs and
put to bed. The Wrights cautioned the Bradley children to stay put
and not leave the place. Mary Jo Wright was like a mother to her young
displaced guests and fed them breakfast the next morning, Friday. At
some time that day the Wrights left for ShilohCemetery at Sumner to
attend the funeral of Poly Wilkerson, slain Thursday night at the
Carrier home. Henry Andrews's body had been shipped by rail to
Starke for Masonic funeral services.
Lee Ruth, the acknowledged leader of the children,
plans. She persuaded the others to go with her to their brother's
place at Wylly, a small community one mile east of
all of the area's turmoil, the children made the journey safely. At Wylly they found the older Bradley and his wife, as
well as Mary Ann
Hall and members of her family including four or five children. The
daughter told her mother and the children that it was dangerous for
them to remain there. She said that if the white men found anybody
from Rosewood in Wylly they would kill them.
The adults left with all the children and entered a
heavily wooded area). Lee Ruth remembered, "We walked through
We sat on a log on the trail....We sat there all day long." She
the log "was laying...deep in water....We sat
there until...sundown that
evening, and I begged to go home. We left out of the hammock and come
back to my sister-in-law's house." By then Hoyt Bradley, her
oldest brother, had arrived, and he told Lee Ruth to take
the children back
to the Wright place. The Hall family also left, walking through muck
and water the twenty miles to the LevyCounty town of Chiefland.
Lee Ruth led her siblings back to the Wright house
mishap. They crawled part of the way, and the young girl "for the
first time in my life...[saw] people with
guns. They were all on the
railroad looking for anything...." The children found their hosts
relieved and the yard full of black women and children waiting for a
train to pick them up. As related by Lee Ruth, Sheriff Walker had
notified Wright to have the blacks meet at his house. Early the next
morning (either Friday or Saturday) the train stopped near the depot.
The women and children walked to the station over the boardwalk. At
that point in her deposition, Lee Ruth added a puzzling story about
marching past men wearing uniforms of green and armed with rifles.
She thought they must have been Marines, and believed that Sheriff
Walker had requested support from the military. No record of any
such unit being in Rosewood has been discovered, and the national
guard had not been activated.
Women and children got on the train and found it
Lee Ruth remembered. "You know, everybody was hollering and crying
and praying [?], and they put us all on the train." The passengers
were met at Gainesville and given refuge. After a short stay there,
the reunited Bradley family moved to Palatka, Florida, where Lee Ruth
grew into her teens. Later the family moved to South Miami.
In 1992 Lee Ruth remembered many of the events that
in the first week of January 1923. Not the least was her impression
that "They killed everything in Rosewood. They didn't want
living in there. They killed everything."
Also taking refuge at the Carriers' home were Arnett
and other children of George Washington and Willa RethaGoins. Willa Retha was Sarah Carrier's daughter and George W.
was the son of Ed Goins, the turpentine businessman. Arnett's
father was working for
the Cummer Lumber Company in Otter Creek and was
not permitted to
come to Rosewood. It is not known if his mother was in Sarah's home.
Arnett was among the children who sought safety upstairs. In 1993 he
remembered that long ago night. After the firing subsided, Arnett and
some others were led to safety by two of the older boys, Rubin and
Lonnie. They went through the fields and trees toward Wylly. Goins
recalled that they "stayed out in the woods about two or three
Other African Americans who knew where they went brought them food.
Next, they were contacted by some blacks and made their way to the
railroad tracks at Wylly where they caught the
rescue train and were
taken to Gainesville. Goins was
reunited with his family, lived
various places, and after 1932 made his home in St. Petersburg.
The Hall family that had fled on Thursday night hid out near Wylly.
Young Margie Hall recalled that later "this white man that owned Wylly...went out and stopped the train and then he
hollered and called
into the woods. We all came out of the woods and got on that train
and went to Gainesville...."
Although most whites sided with the mob, there were
examples of whites who aided the black residents. In Sumner Ernest
Parham's mother and stepfather (a man named Markham) ran the saw
mill's hotel. During the first week of January, the Parhams
their cook, Liza Bradley (who also worked for the Pillsburys and the Johnsons), out of town. She was hidden under
laundry in the back seat
of a car and driven past a roadblock to Bronson. White women in
Sumner (including Mrs. Pillsbury and Mrs. Johnson) hid black women and
children in the community at Sumner and later helped them
train to Gainesville.
NEWS COVERAGE AND EDITORIAL
RESPONSES OF FLORIDA AND
SOUTHERN, NORTHERN, AND BLACK
Although newspapers had their biases in reporting
events, the editorial responses of white and
black state, regional,
and national newspapers and other publications are important in
evaluating the Rosewood affair. Most major Florida and Southern
white newspapers ran the AP stories but did not editorialize. They
expressed alarm at the extent of racial violence, but generally said
it resulted from the attack on Fannie Taylor and blamed the
subsequent deaths on the action of black
residents. These papers
also denounced criticism of Florida by Northern newspapers. Of those
that did editorialize, some justified and defended the violence, but
others tempered their opinions with calls for law and order. Usually,
white journals in the North also limited themselves to AP releases.
Yet, several were highly critical of the mob action. Without
exception, the African American press condemned the entire
White Florida newspapers often denounced the
Rosewood, but not the action itself. The Tampa Times, while decrying
outside distortions and exaggerations, was an exception. "We have
visited the crime of one on the members of a race," the paper
editorialized. "Now that the senseless passion has been gratified,
and an awful revenge has been taken, we are content to settle down
to a period of quiet. But we will not admit that we are anything but a
Christian and civilized people."
The Tampa Morning Tribune was another
exception. Events at
Rosewood "almost make the blood curdle in one's veins," a Tribune
editorial declared. Qualifying its statement, the paper added that
the "provocation, assault of a young pure white woman by one or more
negroes, was great. It is a provocation which, more than any other,
stirs the anger, and whets the determination to punish, in every
white man who reads of it." Having defended one of the region's
oldest and most deeply held shibboleths--the sanctity of Southern
womanhood--the Tribune settled into its argument. "There is no
reason in Florida," the editorial continued, "why justice should
meted out by the courts in such cases, instead of by mobs defiantly
assuming to be arresting officer, court, witnesses, trial judge, jury,
and executioner, all at the same time." The Tribune did not temper
conviction that "Lawlessness is anarchy. This state is law
The American people are law abiding. What then is the source of this
maddening virus in our veins when reason gives way to riot and judgement is lost in clamor?"
The paper pointed out that the South had defeated
an anti-lynching law by Congress in part by arguing that the
individual states themselves could and would handle crime, including
extra-legal mob action. Not to do so, as in the Rosewood turbulence,
would be to ignite again "the flames of hatred and scorn fanned
toward the South by those in other states who think nothing good can
come out of us." Still, and emphasizing again the ancient taboo,
much as the affair was to be regretted, it offered "another proof to
the lawless negro that he cannot with impunity, or even with hope of
escape, lay his hands on a white woman, for white men will shed their
blood to get him." The Tampa newspaper demanded that "county
state officials must take immediate steps to punish every man, black
and white, who is guilty of violating the laws of the land, be they
state or national laws....The 'riot' is a warning to [Florida]
enforcement officials, from the veriest constable
to the sheriffs,
and the judges, that unless there be speed in the punishment of crime,
through the regular channels of the law, there will be more and more
an increase of such horrible things as this."
No newspaper in Florida reacted more strongly than the
Gainesville Daily Sun. The Sun's wrath was so visceral that as late
as Saturday, five days after the attack on Fannie Taylor, the editor
was unable to comment: "Words cannot express the horror of the
tragedy at Sumner and Rosewood in Levy [County]. A brutish negro
made a criminal assault on an unprotected white girl. As a result of
this, two officers of the law were killed and another wounded. Five
or six negroes were killed and many others wounded. Houses were
burned, indignation, vengeance and terror ran riot. We do not know
how to write about it. We feel too indignant just now to write with
calm judgement and we shall wait a little while.
One thing, however,
we shall say now--in whatever state it may be, law or no law, courts
or no courts--as long as criminal assaults on innocent women
continue, lynch law will prevail, and bl[ood] will be shed."
Having made clear that sexual crimes against white
inevitably to violence, the Sun's editor felt able "to write with calm
judgment," and editorialized the next day: "Let it be
declared, "at the very beginning of what we shall here write, that the
racial trouble at...Rosewood was no 'Southern Lynching Outrage.' It
was caused by the shooting down and killing of two officers of the law
and the wounding of another. These law officers were shot down by
negroes, barricaded in a house where a brutish beast was supposed to
be sheltered and this brute had criminally assaulted a white woman.
These officers in Levy [County] were trying to do their
The editorial cautioned: "Do not let it go
abroad, however, that
racial troubles are impending in this state. Do not let it be
attributed to malice or hatred between the races. We have many good
negro citizens who deplore these things as deeply as the white people
do. There is no more racial prejudice in the south than [there] is in
the north. We are glad to testify to the law abiding character of the
large majority of colored people of Florida. Let us speak plainly,
however. We do not write in justification of lynch law for offenses
like murder or arson or crimes like that. We believe the law should
take its course and that patience should prevail even with what [we]
are pleased to call 'the law's delays.' Preach and admonish and warn
as you may, however, the crime of rape will never be tolerated for
one single moment. Congressmen may rave and froth and pass laws as
they please but the time will never come when a southern white man
will not avenge a crime against innocent womanhood. Nor will the men
of the north tolerate it any more than the men of the south."
After conceding that other crimes did not justify
the Sun repeated its sentiments: assault against a woman "creates in
the hearts of brave men a determination that vengeance shall
speedily follow the brutish deeds of the rape fiend. Call it
lawlessness if you will. Legislate against it as you may. Let it
understood now and forever--that he, whether white or black, who
brutally assaults an innocent and helpless woman--shall die the
death of a dog."
Having taken its stand, the Sun used Sunday's
condemn the murder of James Carrier. The partial recanting to what
the Oklahoma City Black Dispatch called a "barbarous act," was
not made until the Sun raised the level of the attack on Fannie Taylor
to an actual rape: "In writing yesterday about the horrors of the
Rosewood race riot we did not speak of it as justifiable in the sense
that the law defines justification. We spoke of it as the inevitable
result of the crime of rape. We said that it was no 'Southern Lynching
Outrage.' That it was brought about because of the shooting down to
death of two white men and the wounding of another by negroes
barricaded in a house where a brutish beast, who had ravished a white
woman, was supposed to be harbored. We spoke of it as the result of
aroused indignation." Then the paper declared, "In no sense
excuse all that happened. What occurred at the 'Death house' was
inevitable. The taking of the old negro man, the next morning, to the
cemetery and there shooting him down was an outrage. It was
unworthy of our race. We are told that bootleg liquor was the bottom
of that. What a shame! What a disgrace to manhood! If that
man was accused of any crime, short of the rape itself, he was
entitled to a fair trial."
The Gainesville paper, inspired by the Sanford Herald, published
at the seat of government of SeminoleCounty in east-central Florida, next arrived at a final explanation. The
was a variation on the 'outside agitators' theme that has universally,
historically, and without regard to geographical location been used
to dismiss controversial issues and to avoid local blame. The episode
was the work, both newspapers deduced, of a stranger, a vagabond, and
was thus caused by the absence of or lack of enforcement of laws
against tramps. The two journals absolved the black race in general
of any inherent criminality. Quite the opposite, the papers conceded,
most blacks were hard working and law abiding. According to the
Sanford Herald, "Again a no-account [N]egro--an
escaped convict in
fact--has aroused racial feeling and caused mob rule and killings and
bad feelings generally in this state. This trouble is always caused
by strange negroes and not by the local negroes and goes to show
that the vagrants especially of the vicious type should be closely
watched and made to leave as soon as possible The
trouble has never
been with the local negroes but the negro tramps and vagrant
gamblers and vicious negroes generally."
Echoing the Herald's sentiments, the Sun remarked,
trouble at Rosewood was brought about by a lawless and criminal
negro vagabond. He was loafing over the country, shirking work,
violating law and was a disgrace to his race. The people of his race
in Florida should not be condemned because of the act of this vagabondish convict. The negroes of Florida are conducting
themselves well. They are a law abiding people who desire to live in
peace." The Sun admitted, "We have vagabonds and criminals in
race. They have no legitimate employment but go about committing
crime and avoiding work. They are burglars and thieves. They are wiretappers and bootleggers. They burn houses
and sometimes commit
rapes. What we need in this devoted land of ours, in city and town and
country is a rigid enforcement of the vagrancy laws without
distinction of color or condition. The man who does honest work does
not commit crime. The man who lives by devious means is a vagrant and
In Tennessee, the Nashville Banner attempted to discriminate
between acts of retribution against individual African Americans in
the South and wholesale violence against a black community which was
more typical of the North. The Banner concluded: "Clashes will
probably continue to occur as long as the two races live together on
the same soil--and that will be, apparently, forever. We hope to make
them less frequent. The best men of both races are earnestly working
toward that end."
Reports in Northern newspapers were entirely
different in tone
and largely condemned Florida
and the South generally for its racial
violence. The New York Call, a socialist journal, saw the Rosewood
incident as demonstrating "how astonishingly little cultural progress
has been made in some parts of the world, and...also
industrial backwardness and political reaction of the South." In New
the Utica Press commented: "Certainly this latest calamity
in Florida is a serious reflection upon the State and its
The New York World used Rosewood and other examples
that if the South did not police its own house, the federal government
would step in. "At Rosewood in Levy [C]ounty,"
editorialized, "a race war has broken out that threatens to lead to
the gravest consequences. It is the usual story of a reported attack
on a white woman, followed by the lynching of a negro [Sam Carter],
not in the belief that he was the actual criminal but on the charge
that he had 'transported in a wagon for several miles a negro
suspected of the crime.' From that started fighting between armed
white men and negroes, which the county authorities professed to be
unable to stop. How many have been killed is not known, but the utter
breakdown of the law is admitted." As was common with many white
Northern newspapers when discussing the South, the editor saw fit to
lecture both races with a gratingly sanctimonious tone: "Incidentally
there is an awful lesson to the black race in this and in every other
state in the Union: when one of his color is sought for a crime of such
intense blackness as that which started the Rosewood 'riot,' his duty
is to conceal nothing; but like a man, and like a law abiding citizen
which his leaders claim--and, which mostly--he is, aid the regular
officers of the law in bringing to justice the criminal. And that
advice stands for the white men of the state too--those who take
vengeance of a summary nature upon aiders and
abettors of law and
order maintained in a lawful way."
Black newspapers universally denounced the events in
and blamed southern society for the persistence of racial violence.
A black newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri, the Argus, explained why
violence against blacks, as in Rosewood, occurred: "When a mob goes
out to lynch a victim it knows when it is forming, that unless by
accident not one of their number will be hurt physically, and that no
mental anguish will come to anyone by being arrested or subjected to
a fine or jail sentence." Therefore, the Argus contended,
always be mob violence and lynching just so long as mob members can
satisfy their blood lust on a certain class of people, knowing that
not one of their number will be punished by the
authorities of the law."
The same idea was expressed by the Oklahoma City Black
Dispatch. The Oklahoma paper had fought for passage of federal
legislation against lynching, and now offered a post-mortem: the
nation's record in 1922 was "a severe indictment of the white South
which fought to the death the Dyer Bill in the [S]enate
of the United
States." The more recent events of 1923 made it difficult to
the Black Dispatch's overall analysis: "we believe that the seed of
lawlessness in America is IN HER HYPOCRITICAL ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE
A despairing Walter F. White, black native of Atlanta, Georgia,
activist, authority on lynching, and later Executive Secretary of the
NAACP, understood the essence of the problem. In a letter to the New
York Call about the deaths of African Americans at Rosewood, he
asserted, "Their crime was that their skins were black."
reduced the issue to a single query: "Let us put aside any
considerations of humanity or decency--the American conscience is
no longer shocked by murders at home. The question to be faced is
simply this: How long can America get away with it?"
A spokesman for blacks, the New York Age, compared
discord in Chicago in 1919 with that in Rosewood: "In Chicago...the
Negro was not afraid to fight back and when the 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." The Age mentioned that "the
newspapers this week carry the name of a Florida riot, the
culmination of a series of lynchings, which
included men not even
alleged to have committed any crime. In this riot a whole Negro
community has been wiped out, their homes and their churches
destroyed by fire, and the Negroes themselves are hiding in the woods
like hunted animals."
William Pickens, a black native of South Carolina, who served as
field secretary for the NAACP from 1920-1942, wrote a letter to the
white New York World. In it Pickens compared how the law was applied
in New Jersey and in Florida. "Rosewood and Orange," he wrote. "Two
beautiful names, but almost as different as Hell and Heaven...."
Pickens believed, "If anything is needed to show up the folly of mob
action, the contrast between mob action in Rosewood, Fla., and the
legal process in Orange, N. Y. [,] supplies that need." According
Pickens, "In Florida a Negro is accused of 'attacking' a white woman
(whatever may be hidden under that word), and the mob, savage furious
and hellish, gets busy. What was the result? Seven people dead
of them white) and all the homes of all the innocent Negroes burned
down. The only fellow [Jesse Hunter] there who has not suffered is
the fellow who is charged with the crime. For that fellow escaped.
Mobs are not so proficient as the law."
In contrast, in Orange "a black
committed an attack and murder, and the law got busy & the only
person to suffer is the criminal. He'll be hanged & the innocent
whites and blacks go about their business. That is law. That is
civilization. That is justice--justice to both the criminal and the
Few black newspapers failed to point out that the
died were innocent people. A typical comment was that of the Norfolk
Journal and Guide. The journal observed with bitter irony that
of the persons done to death [were] in any way whatever connected
with the alleged assault."
A number of historians have traced Northern racial
during the time to economic causes. Job competition built up
animosities between blacks and whites and often resulted in violence.
Such trouble was far less frequent in the rural South, but the
episode at Rosewood raises the issue. Both blacks and whites from
Rosewood, Sumner, and other nearby communities were employed by the Cummer Lumber Company. Were the two races at
odds over employment,
specific jobs at the mill, and pay scales? Did whites resent those
blacks in Rosewood who owned houses and land? The Kansas City
[Kansas] Call reported the Rosewood episode and remarked, "It has
been proven time and again that the desire to eliminate Negroes from
industrial competition, to acquire Negroes' property without paying a
fair price, and other similar mercenary reasons have been the real
cause of race riots."
There may have been economic rivalry between the
Rosewood, but the authors of this report have found nothing to
substantiate this. Oliver Miller, a white resident of Cedar Key,
declared in 1993 that relations between his fellow whites and blacks
were good before and after the Rosewood incident, that there were
few if any repercussions in Otter Creek or Cedar Key, and that blacks
continued to work at the Cummer saw mill in
Sumner. Elmer Johnson,
like Miller a resident of Sumner in 1923, remembered that the pay
scale at the saw mill was less than fifty cents a day for both races.
Evidence that blacks and whites apparently got along in their
business relations could be seen in real estate transactions between
The affair at Rosewood also brought out larger
issues of how
blacks perceived themselves and their place in American society. The
shootout on Thursday night was seen by some blacks as a
manifestation of their refusal to be subservient to the white
majority. Arming themselves and fighting back demonstrated that
blacks were prepared to defend their homes and their lives to the
last extremity. The actions of Sylvester Carrier were portrayed as
heroic by black writers. The Pittsburgh American, a black newspaper,
declared that what happened at Rosewood should "make Negroes
everywhere feel proud and take renewed hope. For our people have
fought back again! They have met the mob with its own deadly weapons, they have acquitted themselves like free
men and were not
content to be burned like bales of hay." The American noted that
"Things have come to the place in this country that the only course
for the Negro is armed resistance. The states refuse to protect us
against the mob and the federal congress has washed its hands of all
anti-lynching legislation. Lynchers are free
to prowl the earth and
butcher any Negro who gets in their path. The only way for the black
man then is to keep his powder dry and shoot back." As the paper
evaluated the situation, "It was a much needed lesson in race
solidarity that these southern Negroes at Rosewood gave to their
brothers in the North."
"No man in his right senses expects to run, and
run, and run
forever," the Kansas City Call declared. The black paper added,
"Three hundred years of slavery did not drive all slaves into abject
submission, nor will continued oppression kill out our determination
to sell life dearly, even down in Florida....Man created in God's image
will always chose to die face to the fore--whenever it is
sufficiently clear that he may not live in peace....We cannot establish
rights by fighting. But how under Heaven can we urge our people to
die like sheep....How can we ask them to be cowards? We cry aloud for
mercy and the answer is the torch! We call for justice and are
answered by the yells of the mob! Maybe it is the will of Providence
that we shall be spared the worst working out of hate, but we fear it
is not to be!"
A special report to the New York Amsterdam News,
obviously written by an African American, offered important evidence
of how Rosewood was held up as an example of bravery and courage in
the face of overwhelming odds. The Amsterdam News's story was
decidedly not a truthful or even an objective example of journalism,
but because of its emotional and psychological message, parts of the
report are included:
"Hearing that the accused man, Jesse Hunter,
was hiding in the village of Rosewood whites from the neighboring towns invaded the
Negro section and attempted a house to house search. They were met
with a hail of bullets at the first house they came to. The inmates,
recognizing the belligerency and lawless composition of the howling
mob, did not wait to ask for an explanation of their visit. They
opened fire and prepared to sell their lives dearly. They might not
have committed any crime, but they knew a lawless mob when they saw one.
"Two whites were killed outright at the first
shower of lead.
Four others were wounded, one possibly fatally and the whites
retreated to await reinforcements from the surrounding lawless
"At this point negroes from other houses came
to the aid of
their besieged brothers and a rude barricade was thrown up and
loopholes made for rifle fire. Negro ex-soldiers put their knowledge
and experience gained in France to use in the service of the Race and
an effective defense was soon organized.
"The whites, reinforced, came back, 600 strong,
and a battle
royal developed. In spite of their reinforcements, the whites were
persistently beaten back by the little determined band within the
rude improvised fort. Robbed of their prey and not anxious to face
the lions at bay, the most cowardly part of the white mob set itself
to the safer task of destroying the undefended Negro residences and
the village church and lodge building.
"In the meantime, within their improvised fort
the little colored
group put up a defense that will bear comparison with many of the
bravest feats of the colored soldiers on Flanders Field and forged
another link in the long chain of evidence going to show that the
Negro has at last decided he can fight his own battles just as
bravely and as effectively as he has ever fought the battles of
EFFORTS TO RESTORE THE LEGAL
JUSTICE SYSTEM AFTER ROSEWOOD
Although Florida's newspapers were slow to criticize the
violence in Rosewood, they recognized that the extent of the
destruction in the community had been excessive and they were
concerned that additional racial violence would undermine stability
in the region. They also worried that the criticism by the northern
press threatened the state's unprecedented prosperity that was
fueled by tourists and the real estate and development boom. Florida
was beginning to shed its image as a poor, backward region. To ignore
what happened at Rosewood was to invite northern criticism and
injure the state's booming economy. In the aftermath of the Rosewood
affair, regional newspapers attempted to persuade local residents to
stop the summary executions and to allow for the restoration of
legal due process.
Fear about continued racial unrest and northern
Governor Cary Hardee to order a special grand jury and a special
prosecuting attorney to investigate conditions there and in Levy County. On January 29, he named A. V. Long, who was
the sitting judge
of the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and George DeCottes,
attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, to inquire into "certain
high crimes that have been committed by unidentified parties or
persons." A native of Jacksonville, DeCottes, replaced A.
the regular state attorney for the eighth district, possibly because
he had failed to secure a conviction in a recent lynching in Newberry. Decottes was a forty-three-year-old World War I
veteran who lived in Sanford and was active in the state's military
affairs. Long, forty-
six, who was born in LakeCity and lived at Gainesville, had a fondness
for bow ties and a reputation for fairness and impartiality.
Governor Hardee took the action because "it is necessary that the
State should use what may be necessary of its resources to
apprehend and punish crime;" and it is "essential that a thorough
rigid investigation be made of mob violence in the two counties."
the Jacksonville Journal put it, "There will be those who condemn him.
But Governor Hardee can comfort himself in the fact that his attitude
also expressed the attitude of the great thinking class of the
South...." Blacks and some whites, who noted that
Floridians (one of them white) were lynched during Hardee's
administration, remained skeptical.
The special grand jury investigating LevyCounty was empaneled
at the courthouse in Bronson on February 12. Before a packed
courtroom, Judge Long charged the grand jury to make every effort to
fix the blame where it belonged and to see that the "guilty parties
are brought to justice." He declared that mob violence had brought
disgrace upon LevyCounty and the entire state. Examination of
witnesses was begun the next morning, and a grand jury composed of
farmers and merchants was selected. It is not known if any
the grand jurors were blacks, but it is probable that there were none.
On February 13, thirteen witnesses testified.
At the end of the
day, DeCottes declined to comment on whether
sufficient evidence had
been obtained to secure indictments. The prosecuting attorney
explained that he could not discuss the matter but said that the
incident was being thoroughly investigated. Twenty-five white and
eight black witnesses were scheduled to testify the next day.
The February 14 examination of witnesses ended
shortly before so that DeCottes could
go to Gainesville and subpoena
additional witnesses. Finally, on the sixteenth, the grand jury's
foreman, R. C. Philpett, a prominent LevyCounty farmer, reported that
the jurors regretted being unable to find evidence on which to base
any indictments. The jurors deplored the mob action and declared
that they were also speaking for the best people of LevyCounty. DeCottes was praised by the grand jurors for his
efforts to secure
true bills. Within three months Sheriff Walker resigned
his office and within a year DeCottes resigned as
Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit. The reasons
action is not known.
Based on our research of the Rosewood violence, we
prepared to offer several conclusions. First, the affair at Rosewood
lasted virtually the entire first week of January 1923 and we can
document that eight people were killed during the racial violence--
six blacks and two whites. The rest of the black community of
Rosewood was driven from the area by white mobs who
their homes, a church, masonic hall and a
store. The black residents
never returned. The tax rolls of LevyCounty reveal that Ed Bradley, Hayward and Sarah Carrier, and Emma Carrier were all
the years prior to the violence. After 1923 much of their property
was acquired by John Wright and other whites who paid the delinquent
taxes on the property.
We believe that Sheriff Walker failed to control
and to request proper assistance from Governor Hardee when events
moved beyond his control. While Hardee condemned the violence and
ordered a special prosecutor to conduct a grand jury investigation,
he did so (more than a month had passed) only after black residents
were forced to leave Rosewood and their property was destroyed.
The failure of elected white officials to take
to protect the safety and property of local black residents was part
of a pattern in the state and throughout the region. In Ocoee in
November 1920, and Perry in December 1922, local and state officials
failed to intervene to protect black citizens, and in each incident
several innocent blacks were killed and their property destroyed.
The same was true in other southern states where rape and black
resistance were not tolerated by white residents and were seen as a
legitimate excuse to abandon the law in favor of brute force. Pleas
from citizens and their spokesmen fell on deaf ears, and Florida's
white leadership to responded to the civil and
racial unrest only
when it threatened to jeopardize the state's economic advancement.
Like the racial violence in Ocoee, Perry and
communities throughout Florida
and the South during this era,
Rosewood was a tragedy of American democracy and the American legal
system. In all these incidents, alleged assaults against white women
were sufficient to warrant the abandonment of the American justice
system. The need to protect southern white women was seen as
sufficient to justify racial violence and oppression. When black
resistance was added to an alleged assault upon a white woman then
elements of southern society believed retribution against the entire
black community was warranted. Far too many whites believed an
example had to be set so that other black communities throughout Florida understood that such resistance to southern racial
would not be tolerated. We conclude that by their failure to restrain
the mob and to uphold the legal due process, the white leaders of the
state and country were willing to tolerate such behavior by white citizens.
The authors support the views expressed by former
residents Leslie and Ernest Parham who characterized Rosewood as a
"good community." Ernest Parham said about Rosewood's black
residents that "the people had nice homes and were law abiding and
took care of themselves. . . ." Leslie Parham added that
"they did not
deserve what happened to them." The authors agree with the Parhams.
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