A short history of the massacre of Black residents in the town of Rosewood, Florida, by racist white mobs in 1923. Written by Liam Kilby.
Content note: racial violence
On January 1st, 1923, the Rosewood Massacre occurred in central Florida, destroying a predominantly black neighborhood fueled by a false allegation. A white woman by the name of Fannie Taylor claimed to be assaulted by an unknown black man.¹ White racists from the neighboring town gathered around to go to Rosewood to find the alleged attacker on the belief that the residents of this town were sheltering him. They believed the attacker to be Jesse Hunter on only the idea that he was an escaped road gang convict.² When encroaching on Rosewood, they came across Sam Carter, who allegedly told the racist mob where Hunter could be. When they could not locate Hunter, they tortured Carter and shot him an unnecessary amount of times before hanging him. This attack was only the beginning of the racist mob’s attack on the residents of Rosewood, FL. When the white mob approached the house of Sarah and Sylvester Carrier, two residents of Rosewood, they attacked them both, leading to the death of both Carriers and two members of the white mob, as the Carriers both defended themselves in their last moments.¹ The next day, an even larger racist white mob burned every house and church in Rosewood, killing James Carrier, Mingo Williams, and Lexie Gordon in the burning process. The massacre happened over a period of 7 days. The official toll on death during the Rosewood pogrom was 8, but it is assumed to be more around 27.¹ This uncertainty of the death toll is reminiscent of past racist actions across every nation unanimously. When this violence took place, the lack of care to track those who died during this incident was small, so finding bodies years later (especially in the case of fires) made it more challenging.³ To add on, during the Rosewood massacre, every resident who was able to run away dispersed across the country, being forced to places such as swamps and railways for protection. Families separated, and generations split.
It is essential to recognize the exact time this happened because just one day before this attack, a KKK rally took place just northeast of Gainesville, Florida. Two years earlier, the Tulsa race riots occurred, causing an estimated 300 deaths and 800 injured, according to the Red Cross.¹ Therefore, the white racist ideation was significant and more skeptical than ever, causing such harm and generational trauma to occur. Survivors remember the trauma they experienced, such as Robin Mortin. Mortin remembered the vicious crimes that took place and outspokenly talked about the white racists’ crimes. When Mortin spoke about how the mob treated his Uncle, “They took his fingers and his ears, and they just cut souvenirs away from him. That was the type of people they were.”⁴ Robin Mortin passed away in 2010 at the age of 94. While many survivors of this attack passed on, the grandchildren live to tell the stories.
On May 23, 1994, Florida Governor Lawton Chilies signed into law House Bill 591, known now as the Rosewood Bill. It allowed for up to $2 million in reparations for the remorseless attack on the families of Rosewood. Of the survivors, 172 got reparations ranging from $220-$450,000.⁵ While the survivors of Rosewood gave reparations, no monetary sum can fix generational harm on survivors and the children who are now adults, that remember the stories told to them on those tragic days.
Much of this massacre in Rosewood, FL, is reminiscent of repeated instances of racism that pertain to the erasure of these groups. Fannie Taylor, the white lady allegedly assaulted by a black man near Rosewood, is ever-so similar to the Scottsboro Boys’ case in the 30s, Emmett Till in the 50s, the Exonerated Five in the 80s, and even today with such instances as Christian Cooper. The death toll on many of these heinous crimes was- and still is- incorrect due to the lack of documentation for violence against black, brown, and indigenous peoples. We can trace back to the unmarked graves found under missionaries in California, the unmarked graves under churches in British Columbia, Rosewood’s incident, and crimes in Tulsa. Not to mention the thousands of bodies unmarked from slavery and colonization across the land. The Rosewood massacre is one of many massacres on black families to end their generational ties in place of homogenized white versions of themselves.
Visit the website rememberingrosewood.org to view the significance for yourself. As well, to see the ones who tragically lost their lives and the ones who survived to speak of the tragedies. Many people related to the survivors of Rosewood are alive today, and respecting the closeness of what happened is vital for respecting Rosewood.
Caplan, Andrew. “Remembering Rosewood.” Gainesville Sun. Gainesville Sun, May 29, 2018. https://www.gainesville.com/news/20180526/remembering-rosewood.
Glenza, Jessica. “Rosewood Massacre a Harrowing Tale of Racism and the Road toward Reparations.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, January 3, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/03/rosewood-florida-massacre-racial-violence-reparations.
González-Tennant, Edward. “Intersectional Violence, New Media, and the 1923 Rosewood Pogrom.” Fire!!! 1, no. 2 (2012): 64. https://doi.org/10.5323/fire.1.2.0064.
“ROSEWOOD HISTORY.” ROSEWOOD HISTORY - Remembering Rosewood - The Most Thorough Site. Accessed July 15, 2021. https://rememberingrosewood.org/history.php.
Upton, Emily. “The Rosewood Massacre of 1923 .” Today I Found Out, August 18, 2013. http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/08/the-rosewood-massacre-of-1923/.