Jason Cochran

Stuff you never knew you never knew

May

7

2011

Rosewood's marker: Half the story, but whose half?

Today I visited Rosewood, Florida, a town with a past so tangled that its historical marker requires two sides to tell it.

That sign is pretty much all there is to tell the story. That’s because Rosewood was erased.

It was torched by racists in 1923. The tale is as convoluted as it is painful, but the short version is that there were once two towns, one mostly white and one black (Rosewood). One day a white person accused a black man of doing something terrible, which happens a lot when scapegoats are required, at which point hundreds of the whites exploded into a bloodthirsty rage. They didn’t just kill people (mostly black, but some whites who tried to stop the slaughter, too), but they hunted them for a week. Rosewood residents had to hide in the woods like animals, only to be cut down when they finally emerged. To finally rid the area of blacks once and for all, the white savages burned Rosewood down.

For a long time, what happened in Rosewood was mostly whispered because no sign or museum in the place itself dared to summon the story. As recently as the ’90s, plans for a monument were shelved because the locals powers disagreed on how much to spend.

Politicians pat themselves on the back

The historical marker was installed only in 2004, despite the fact Hollywood, our most effective national memorializer, had made a movie version in 1997. Most markers in the American South tell the same story on both sides, but Rosewood’s is a cliffhanger. The first half of the story unfolds on the western face (which is odd considering the only civilization in that direction, near the lip of the Gulf of Mexico, is Cedar Key). In it, the dissenting whites are “courageous” while residents of the “predominantly colored” community of Rosewood, apparently not courageous enough to be described that way, hide in the woods.

The flip side consists mostly of a roundabout explanation of why the sign took so long to get there. You see, the sign apologizes, the victims refused to talk about it. Fortunately, and as a matter worthy of casting onto a metal marker, a Democratic governor got the ball rolling. A decade later, a Republican one (a Bush, no less) finally accomplished the mission, and made sure the final line of the long-neglected plaque memorialized the fact.

The saga of why Rosewood was denied its due is nowhere equal to the sorrow and horror of the tale itself, but politicians seem to think so. Their bipartisan collaboration takes more space to relate than the more complicated reasons for the violence, and the retelling of the violence, too, reads as if it was written from the white perspective.

It’s said that most racial disputes are ultimately about money — who’s perceived as taking jobs, who’s perceived as causing crime. In Rosewood, black residents owned their own businesses and their own land, and one of the first things the whites did that week was to loot their property and steal their land. Survivors were too terrorized to ever return.

Rosewood, near the west coast of Florida where the state begins its westward bend toward Alabama, is one of more than three dozen black communities that were eradicated by frenzied whites, but above the others it remains stained. I drove down its unpaved roads. There are a few noticeably modest modern homes there now, buried deep in thicket and protected by barking dogs that, judging by their sensitivity, are clearly unaccustomed to even casual drive-bys. Two homes had American flags hung by their mailboxes (they also took the local paper, too), and I saw one middle-aged woman cutting her side lawn with a mower that didn’t seem to be smeared with human blood. (For a video of the town today, click here.)

I’m sure they’re very nice, normal American people there now, with no festering furies. But given the fact the town’s reputation was stained by simmering anger that suddenly bubbled over, it’s not hard to imagine an unwelcome malevolence in these normal yards. When I heard an unseen dog bark in agitation and saw a U.S. flag hang limp on a windless May afternoon, it was hard not to smell underlying threat in the air in Rosewood.

UPDATE: A year later, I revisited Rosewood, and I shot a video. Click here to watch it.

Shoot in the woods instead, as per the unwritten tradition

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71 comments. Add a Comment:

  1. Pat Butler says:

    Why is it that we want to call the truth other than what it is? She was not a lady. She was tramp and she wanted to cover up her trampy ways with a lie on a Black man. She should have been a woman of character, but she wasn’t. She cheated on her husband so what was the harm if she lied on a Black man. The racial stigma didn’t value Black people. She WASN’T a victim. She was the PROBLEM of a larger PROBLEM. Quit trying to justify the ignorance which still exists today in Florida and the rest of the United States.

  2. Mark Webster says:

    Pat, you are responding to the movie version of what happened. My grandpa knew the people involved including Fannie Taylor, the only thing she did was get beat up by a black man. Many lies were created after the fact to justify a point of view, black and white, that is the “Hidden Truth in Rosewood”. White racists today believe the lie that Fannie Taylor was raped, black racists believe the lie that she had a white lover. Racism is wrong and is fed by ignorance. We can’t change the past but we can build a better future if people will stop wanting to believe the lies.

  3. For the record, this post does not dwell on the specifics. It discusses the fact there was a racial massacre and there is very little to commemorate it. If it were commemorated better, perhaps the specifics would be less in question.

  4. Pat Butler says:

    Mark, I’ve been Black all of my life. I am 64 years old. I am from the North. All my days I have seen Black men blamed for white folks mistakes and for white folks wrongs. Don’t tell me that a white woman blamed a Black man for her indiscretions cause she was so “pure”. I am reacting to life. If she had been a better woman–she wouldn’t have needed to put the blame on a Black man.

  5. Mark Webster says:

    Pat, I’ve been white all my life, I am 61 years old, I am from the south. I live in Sumner, I even shop at the Dollar Store in Rosewood. If the man who attacked her was yellow she would have said he was chinese. Stop trying to blame another victim for other peoples’ crimes. The drunk, racist, rednecks were the ones to blame for escalating the incident into an atrocity.

  6. Pat Butler says:

    Mark, Let me apologize for you. Racism is alive and well. Rosewood, then; the U.S. then, the U.S. now. Racial inequality has been promoted, fed and kept alive by the ignorance of others. Equality has never been the agenda for the U.S. Here and there there have been some illuminated moments, but by and large, this country has done what it could to keep Blacks (and others) at second class status–from before the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the amendments to count Black men as 3/5 of a man, Civil Rights laws,Jim Crow laws and the myriad before and after the Civil Rights.

    Laws put on the books to protect Black Americans–that racism keeps trying to undo. We did not ask t come here–but, you brought us. You denigrated my people, and still do, without cause.

    Just let us be free and Black. Not having to adhere to any of the poor standards and climb the walls of prejudice and racism. We all want a decent place to live, sufficient food, safety for our families and a standard of living that promotes healthy and positive neighborhoods. Racism and prejudice prevent that. Ask Rosewood–ask Fannie.

  7. Mark Webster says:

    Pat you are right about one thing racism is alive and well in America today. Slavery was a festering sore in America for over 200 years until it was abolished by congress and it left the scar of racism. Ignorance breeds racism, education kills it. John Singleton’s movie wasn’t a documentary, it was intended to be inflamitory to increase viewer attendance, a lot of fiction based on a few facts to make money. Fannie Taylor was a victim of assault and character assassination, don’t blame her blame her attacker. This was not “To Kill a Mockingbird” this was real life not fiction, although so much fiction has been added to it people would rather believe the fiction than the facts.

  8. Mary K. says:

    I just wish people were not so stupid. I can’t really say anything because when it comes to me and people who do drugs, especially meth, I stand firmly on the idea they should be culled. Put on an island with food and water, spayed and neutered first, and left to die off. For most people its an issue of color, or background, for me its people who choose stupidity. I understand that this was not fiction. The point was that many events of To Kill a Mockingbird still happen. Here, it happened. But there was no “white knight”. My family was involved in this incident. Both are mentioned in all the reports. One was cited for saying he would not participate and tried to help, the other was an instigator. And I do not believe the people of Rosewood would have tried to hide Hunter unless they honestly believed he was innocent. They did not sound so stupid as to think there would not be consequences. Beating a white woman when you are a black man was as dangerous as you could be back then and they knew it. Their lives burned to the ground because of it. Making up a story of a white man to save themselves I don’t think is something they would have been dumb enough to do either. That is my biggest problem with the whole story. Uneducated, maybe, but the blacks of Rosewood were not stupid. Their lives depended on it. Built on it. I do not believe they would have hidden him, saved a man they knew had committed a crime that would endanger them all. I don’t believe they would tell a story of some white lover who beat a woman for no reason expecting it to save them. No one here can go back and find out the facts of the story, and as of today, there are to many discrepancies in the records and what ifs. I think its possible, but there are so many holes still left to be filled. The film maker blowing things up I don’t think helped either. That is the other problem. We continue to make movies about violent history and create more and change reports to make the story more interesting. And it breeds more hate. More mistrust. More uneducated stupidity.

    White people are always quick to point out that blacks enslaved their own people, or my favorite, “we just followed their lead.” Before white people came to Africa, the reason they enslaved was not to break down a group of people. They did not kill their own people. Every hand was needed in order to cultivate crops, ensure a future, to live. They took slaves of villages so they had enough hands to feed themselves. People were not cattle. They were still people. Skills were valued. They valued life. They were not beaten. Killed. Murdered. Stripped from their families. Told their religion was wrong and beat for worshiping a God other than their own. Every culture has its atrocities. Much like the Native Americans though, their people were nothing like the ‘civilized’ people of Europe or violence of South American cultures. That was all on the white slavers who came and destroyed what was essentially a beautiful idea.

  9. Mark Webster says:

    Regarding the attack of Fannie Taylor, Sylvester Carrier said “an example of what we could do without interference” which indicates that he believed a black man made the attack. To make such a statement when armed mobs were roaming the countryside wasn’t smart and he knew they would come after him which is why he tried to create a defenseable position at his mothers house before they did. That wasn’t smart either.
    And your pastoral setting for African slavery is pure fantasy. Slavery is total control of someones life against their will and is wrong in ALL cases.

  10. Roger Dean says:

    My Deceased Grandgather was 8 years old at the time of the Rosewood Massacres. Growing up in nearby Archer, Fl his mother had told him of the horrors that had taken place. My Grandfathers Grandfather was James Dean, the first African-American judge elected in the state of Fl. James Dean was falsely accused of marrying a white woman and a black man. After being disbarred, He died many years later, financially broke and disgraced. In 2002 he was reinstated as a Judge by Jeb Bush. Seems like the state of Florida has a terrible history of mistreating African-Americans. I am so thankful he decided to move north to New Jersey, where 3 generations of Deans still live today.

  11. bharford says:

    The white women must co-habit with members of the dark races, the White man with black women. Thus the White race will disappear, for mixing the dark with the white means the end of the White Man, and our most dangerous enemy will become only a memory. We shall embark upon an era of ten thousand years of peace and plenty, the Pax Judiaca, and OUR RACE will rule undisputed over the world. Our superior intelligence will enable us to retain mastery over a world of dark peoples.”

    -Rabbi Rabbinovich 1952

  12. Jane says:

    There have been many Fannie Taylors in America’s history. They are depicted as diadems of untarnished virtue–attributes that are assumed to be in abstentia in women of other ethnicities and cultures. These Fannie Taylors could make any unsubstantiated accusation or claim against a black man, and he was assured to be lynched, drowned, burned alive, castrated, or dismembered. That’s the authentic history of this supposedly Protestant, Christian nation– the beast with two horns like a lamb that speak as a dragon. There will be retribution for all the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity. Those who have used Jesus’ name to condone the most evil, diabolical, demonic, debased, degenerate, and depraved acts against human beings created in the image of the Living God will not go unpunished by heaven. If anyone is foolish enough to believe that America’s wickedness has gone unseen, unnoticed, and undocumented by heaven, they are in for a very real and rude awakening. God’s angels have recorded with unerring accuracy every act, deed, word, thought, motive, and intent of the human heart. God is a God of love, mercy, and justice. His love is everlasting, but His mercy and justice has limits and America has almost breached the boundaries of those limits. There are copious, untold stories in America’s history like Rosewood, Allensworth, and the Tulsa Oklahoma Massacre. I use to have so much anger against the perpetrators and the inhumane legal system that excused and assisted in perpetuating this evil. I don’t anymore, because I know there is a day of God’s merited justice and judgments, and He has the final word.

  13. Steven Lewis says:

    I just finished watching Rosewood again, this time with my kids who are at an age where I want them to under about racial tensions especially in these times. I too visited the area that was Rosewood with my then fiance. This was before the sign was erected so I has to vision what it looked like. This was before cameras on phones so what I saw had to remained a memory. I planned to visit again and I am unsure why I have been interested in their story since I moved to Gainesville and since moving to Jacksonville. But these times we face require us to revisited our history in one way or another.

  14. Tritana Graham says:

    Do you have any pictures of what Fannie Taylor looked like?

  15. Anon Y. Muss says:

    Why couldn’t the south do what the west did, bring in immigrants and pay them wages? They could have paid them partly in housing and it wouldn’t have coated much.

  16. Anon Y. Muss says:

    Meant to say wouldn’t have cost much.

  17. Donna says:

    Growing up in Rosewood i was told of the stories. Yes what happened was wrong, but why are the locals the ones being punished for what happened in 1923. Those of us that live here are proud to call it home. Horror stories are found in every state and just about every town. I lived within walking distance of the only known Cemetery in Rosewood and the markers of the bodies buried there are before the massacre ever happened. So not sure how it plays into the massacre at all. Instead of blaming everyone that lives there now, worry more about what is happening on the streets today. Just how many have to die for it to be a massacre. Check the record on how many were actually killed during this event. If i can recall it was 6 black and 2 white. I am proud to have grown up in this small community . What happened in the past is the past and the future should not have to pay for that mistake. Just wish everyone could see past that part and know that we are a loving community, not a racist one.

  18. Nancy Cherry says:

    My Father was born in Williston Florida in 1907 His father and mother lived in Rosewood I have the original paper of his family that died. My father was 16 at the time. I figured he was on that train towards Gainesville in the movie. My father ended up in St. Augustine Florida. My father cried everyday of his life how his family was hung and killed.

  19. Lisa says:

    Was wondering after Fannie and her husband moved, did they stay together have children or divorced or separated. I’m sure her husband really knew how she was. Must have been embarrassing for him as a husband?
    *i know she died of cancer

  20. Samine Parris-Stowes says:

    I just left that area. And even went through Williston. When I was in Rosewood besides everybody given me and my husband dirty looks I didn’t see not one black. I asked I guess the locals about the town and they sent me to the other City Katie’s or whatever but it was really weird so I got out of there fast. As I was taking pictures of the sign I got many dirty looks as they drove by.

  21. Preston says:

    Why say Governor Bush no less?

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