Jason Cochran

Stuff you never knew you never knew

Rosewood Baptist Church, Florida

Rosewood Baptist Church, Florida

A year ago, I first visited Rosewood, Florida, the site of a horrific racist massacre in 1923. Someone imagined a black man raped a white girl, and it exploded from there. I found the paltry memorialization of this American tragedy to be disquieting. I wrote about my first visit to Rosewood on this blog (click here to read that post, see the pictures, and read the depressingly politicized plaque).

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to return. Rosewood is in Levy County, where Florida State Road 24 meets County Road 324, a few miles east of Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. This place once buzzed as a miller of cedar for Faber pencils. Now it’s quiet.

My first trip there was too unsatisfying, bereft of the vibration that turmoil usually leaves. I left without a sense of the gravity of what had happened there. If I hadn’t known beforehand, I never would have realized that this dusty, overgrown, fire-prone patch of coastal Florida land had hosted any event of note, let alone one charged with such fury, terror, and bloodlust.

This time, I battled the seasonal swarm of lovebugs to shoot a little video of Rosewood so people can see it for themselves. It appears, on the face of it, to be a dreary, sun-baked little outpost of pickup trucks and scrubby trees. It seems like nothing special as long as you remain ignorant.

But of course, the woods most people zoom past once were once the setting for unimaginable savagery.

The location of Rosewood, Florida

There is no way to stop in Rosewood inconspicuously. There is no street life. The sole business, the Clam Shack restaurant, is shuttered. The sole church comes out of hibernation, one presumes, once a week. The Florida Forest Service’s Waccasassa Forestry Center keeps a sleepy eye out for flare-ups. If you get out of your car to shoot video, as I did, it’s impossible to go unnoticed. It’s the kind of place where I expect the sheriff to drive over and ask you where you’re from, and to call me “boy” when he does it.

The brutality that started on New Year’s Day, 1923, persisted for a long time — there had just been a KKK rally in nearby Gainesville — and Rosewood was burned down by a mob a full week after the mayhem began. Gone are the Florida Railroad train station, Masonic hall, and school. The few remaining ashes and bricks are overgrown with vines and trees, and modern-day residents live on land long ago commandeered or repurposed from the black community. The lumber mill where its residents worked was in the white town of Sumner, next door just west — you could walk between them, and everyone did — and that mill burned down four years after the massacre, sending the joint settlement into the anonymous oblivion they occupy today.

Some white locals bragged that as many as 17 people were killed and buried like animals in plow trenches, but only eight deaths can be documented (two of them white men), so that’s the number officials usually go with, which minimizes the scope and viciousness of that week. The historical plaque is also quick to praise the brave whites who tried to quell the massacre and praise the politicians who ordered the plaque — facts that may be true but still make me uncomfortable given how much detail about the victims and the climate of insanity that was left off.

As many commenters on my previous Rosewood post have pointed out, there are many Rosewoods hiding in the trees of America, unremarked and unremembered. We pass desultory intersections like Rosewood’s every day. And we will never know how many of them were once the settings for brutal events, in which Americans, believing they were right and on the side of God, were in fact the instruments of something sinister and evil.

When unspeakable things happen, it’s human nature to simply want to get past them. We move on. In this way, they get forgotten.

No sheriff appeared to call me “boy.” That lived only in my imagination, just like the rest of Rosewood. Imagination is what fanned the furnace of mob action in Rosewood in 1923, too. Things like Rosewood depend on the imagination to exist at all.

Read about the historical plaque and my first visit to the site of Rosewood, Florida.

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16 comments. Add a Comment:

  1. Penny Hess says:

    There will be a march on Saturday, July 7 at 10 am in Bronson FL which is very close to Rosewood in defense of Eric Oliver who defended himself and his family when a white mob descended on his house a few weeks ago. Eric was arrested and given $100,000 bond (later lowered to $10,000), He is facing serious charges. For more info see uhurunews.com

  2. Rob says:

    I have been fascinated with Rosewood since I first heard about it 12 years ago. I first visited there not long after and shot some video on the back roads behind the house where the plaque stands. Quite eerie as I was chased out by a couple of angry dogs. Also the site of vultures eating a deer. I stopped in at the Cedar Key Museum and inquired about it. The woman running the place became quite irate and did not wish to talk about it. I have done much research since then and have been back a few times, but have not had any opportunity to visit the house by the plaque, with it’s no trespassing signs.

  3. Mark Webster says:

    With tones of `To Kill a Mockingbird` the mob violence during the first week of January 1923 at Rosewood actually happened. The facts that remain are the legal records as recorded in Bronson. The use of Bloodhounds is admissible as evidence in court, Fannie Taylor was assaulted, people will lie, black or white, probably both. The adults involved are dead, my grandfather was one of them, he was a 23 year old white man working at the Cummer & Sons cypress mill in Sumner. He never spoke of it other than to say `it was a `gawdawful` thing`. I have read a number of sites on the event all are slanted one way or the other. It seems to me that each side wants to force their version of what happened down the others throat, based on a lie. Who lied? We will never know now they are `lying` in their grave.

  4. Mary says:

    Rob, I too, visited Rosewood. It was kind of eerie. I visited the cemetary and on my way there, I saw a man laying in the ditch. My children were convinced he was dead.As it turned out, he was just sleeping. I continue to wonder…what became of Mr.Wright after everyone else was gone.

  5. Mark Webster says:

    Mr. Wright and his family are buried at Shiloh cemetery, Sumner Florida

  6. Catherine S. Griffin says:

    God bless the souls of those we lost. Such a horrific tragedy.

  7. I stood there by sign and cried in their memory. Now I cry when I hear the current news as we travel that forlorn road o f violent hatred one again. God [KOSMOS the infinite] save us all as we attempt to avert more Rosewoods worldwide today! Skip West

  8. Joyce says:

    What I want to know, whatever happened to fannie taylor…the bitch that startd it all!!
    I’d like to find out how her life ended. I hope she suffered for for her lie

    Jan 1 2016, I will return to Rosewood and take roses to plant…..
    Rosewood had roses planted all over it

    Cedar Key used to be the capital of Flordia, the people there know more then they tell

  9. I do have the move that was made about Rosewood massacre. What what ever happen to the white women that accused the black man of rape?.

  10. Judith Haney says:

    Those in the area of Sumner and Cedar Key that don’t want to talk about the tragedy of Rosewood are cowards.

  11. MackK says:

    Judith Haney – What do you want to bet that the people who don’t want to talk about it or get angry over queries about it are related to members of the Rosewood murdering mob?

  12. Tom says:

    Just saw the movie for the first time. Looked up the town on the map and read the plaque and research. Absolutely horrifying. the scariest part is that I still see people around today who repeat that same hate and fear. Could this happen again today? Absolutely! We need to elect leaders that can keep the hounds of hate, in all races, at bay. For once they are released, stopping them is almost impossible…

  13. lou ann shepherd says:

    Florida should buy some acerage at the site, build a decent visitor center and museum and above all there should be made an effort to find the mass grave. it could be done with ground penetrating radar but some trees and other growth would have to be removed. a puny plaque by the side of the road is not enough. i wouldnt want to be a homeowner there knowing there might be a grave under my house. i wonder if any ghost hunters like the guys on Ghost Adventures would have enough guts to do an investigation there and bring along Amy Allan of The Dead Files (a medium) to find that mass grave. it could be done. but no one cares. and i am a oddball in this group, a 62 year old white woman on disability who cannot and will not loose my fascination with this tale. more needs to be done. i hope you will do an update soon. tell us about other massacres too.

  14. ralph ferguson says:

    The ghouls and hypocrites that keep stirring hate…ignorant liberals with their obvious agendas!

  15. If you’re complaining that we remember this event, then you’re the one with the agenda, and you’re the one choosing ignorance.

  16. Jason..New Years Day January 01.1923..a black man is imagined to have beatened and raped a young white (Fannie Mae Taylor on the white side Sumner in the early afternoon new years eve December 31.1922..the black side is Rosewood a respectable and well organized section in Florida..

    FANNIE MAE TAYLOR
    Adulteress, a Lier, white..

    Why she lied is irrelevant to the murders that follows indiscriminately any black person sieged upon by this racist crowd

    Yes, as mentioned by a commentator people who refuse to talk probably ate linked in some way..i will dare to allege since the massacre 95 years ago..their friends and confederates even late family members many masons and members of the KU KLUX KLAN
    still holding to the sworn oath of silence..and most were paid to keep their mouths shut then and through the ensuing years that still is upheld by racist sympathizers..

    Jack Rubenstein (Jack Ruby): “the truth will i carry to my grave.”

    The man who shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald (24)..who denied killing anyone and said on live TV
    when asked did he shoot the president: “no this is the first i heard about it.” LHO (11.22.1963)

    When a government wants to frame you or silence a man or a woman civilians or persons of notoriety it does it always perfectly that is left for the world to draw own conclusion..here we are doing this about a crime done to a race of people 95 years ago..some facts..most speculation..

    Fannie Mae Taylor..what was her duly and just punishment in this life ?? I believe this woman was deeply hurt by the violence..

    This white woman is not to be blamed for what happned..the law did nothing to prevent crimes but aided and abetted the lawlessness of its own white racist confederates the KKK..

    W?RLD?L?VE

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