In the first week of January in 1923, somewhere between 8 and 150 people were killed during a week-long race riot in Rosewood, Florida. The entire town was destroyed. (1)
Rosewood was a quiet, predominantly black town in rural Levy County, Florida that was about 3 miles away from the predominantly white town of Sumner. (1)
The massacre began when a white woman from Sumner named Fannie Taylor claimed that a black man had entered her home and assaulted her. Her neighbor heard her scream and found her bruised and beaten. Her initial report did not say the assailant raped her, but rumors eventually spread that she was beaten, raped and robbed. (1)
Years later, the Taylor family's laundress, Sarah Carrier's, granddaughter Philomena Goins, spoke up, saying that, as per usual, she joined her grandmother at their home that morning and they saw a white man leave the back door in the morning. Though the neighbor heard the screams in the morning, she said it was while it was still dark - Philomena saw Taylor with evidence of being beaten, but said it was well after morning. (1)
Additionally, Sarah's grandson and Philomena's brother, sometimes went with them to the Taylor's house, and he had seen the white man before, named John Bradley. The Carriers told others Rosewood what she believed happened: Fannie had a (white) lover, he beat her, and she blamed it on a black man. (1)
The black community in Rosewood rallied together to defend themselves. The white people of Sumner began "hunting for black people", and began burning all of the structures in Rosewood. (1)
Though Fannie never named any names or (seemingly) never provided any information other than that he was black, the Levy County sheriff set their sights on Jesse Hunter: A black prisoner who had recently escaped. They began a search for him, and many white folks from Sumner joined. (1)
On the first night of the riots, the group of white people who were beginning to form a mob, went to the home of Sarah Carrier's nephew Aaron Carrier, tied him to a truck and dragged him to Sumner. (1) He nearly died, and then was placed in jail. (2)
Next, they found a man named Sam Carter. They tortured him until he admitted that he had hidden Jesse Hunter, the escaped prisoner. They shot him in the face and hung him from a tree. (1)
On January 4th, the massacre came to a standoff at Sarah Carrier's home, filled with 15-25 men, women and children. Some seeking safety, some at their grandmothers' home for the holidays. There are conflicting reports of who shot first, but ultimately, Sarah and her son Sylvester were shot and killed, 2 white men were shot and killed, and many other people were injured, including a child who had been shot in the eye. (1).
Survivors hid, some in swamps, until cars and trains came to evacuate them to larger towns. Rosewood was abandoned: Nobody ever moved back. (1)
Though it was widely reported on when it happened, there are not many records of the incident. Survivors remained silent. Eventually, it gained media attention in 1980 when a story was written. The survivors and their descendants sued the state for failing to protect the black community, and in 1983, Florida became the first state to compensate survivors for damages from racial violence.
THE HORRORS OF ROSEWOOD
Though the official death toll was 8 (6 black, 2 white), many believe it to be higher. Some say they saw up to 27 black people killed, and many maintain the reporting of white deaths wasn't accurate. Some saw mass graves filled with black people. However, by the time investigations began, many witnesses were dead or too old to provide accurate details. (1)
James Carrier, brother of Sylvester Carrier and son of Sarah Carrier, was shot over the graves of his dead family members, and was captured, interrogated and told to dig his own grave. (2)
His wife, Emma Carrier, was shot in the hand and wrist. She evacuated to Gainesville, but never recovered from her injuries and died the following year. (1)
Robie Mortin, a survivor, died at age 94 but ended up being one of the most vocal advocates once the silence broke. Her uncle was Sam Carter, the man who was killed for allegedly helping Jesse Hunter escape. (2)
From a 2016 article in The Guardian, Mortin says, "my grandma didn't know what my uncle Sammy had done to anybody to cause him to be lynched like that." They had also apparently cut his fingers and ears off. (2)
Others who didn't die in the massacres still experienced the horror. A six-year-old at the time Lizzie Robinson, now 77, shared some of what she remembered.Her aunt, Mahulda Carrier, was Aaron Carrier's wife - the man who had been dragged by the truck. (2)
Lizzie shares that Mahulda was captured the same night, and tortured. They tied a rope around her neck and put her in the car. They tried to get her to admit that her husband was involved in Fannie's assault. She was indignant, "and they said, 'She's a bold bitch - let's rape the bitch.' And they did. Gang style," says Lizzie. (2)
Sarah Carrier's husband, Haywood, was away on a hunting trip during the entire ordeal. He returned to his home and city destroyed by the mob and his wife and sons dead. He was overtaken by grief and only spoke to himself, sometimes wandering away unclothed. He died the following year. (1)
THE OFFICIAL 6 ROSEWOOD VICTIMS
Sam Carter: Shot after being tortured and accused of hiding escaped prisoner Jesse Hunter, who was, without evidence, accused of Fannie Taylor's assault (1)
Sarah Carrier: The Taylor's laundress who shared with the town she believed Fannie Taylor had been beaten by her white lover, matriarch of the Carrier family. She was shot during the massacre. (1)
Sylvester Carrier: Son of Sarah Carrier, helped protect the house during the massacre. He was shot during the massacre. (1)
James Carrier: Son of Sarah Carrier, hid in the swamps and returned to Rosewood seeking protection. When the mob found him, they killed him. (1)
Lexi Gordon: A 50-year old woman with typhoid fever and was shot in the face when trying to leave her home that the mob set on fire. (1)
Mingo Williams: Was 20 miles away in Bronson working on the side of the road when the mob asked his name. When he gave a nickname, they shot him. (1)
The Rosewood Massacre echoes elements from events we've all heard, but this isn't one that everybody has heard about. The destruction of an entire town, the deaths of at least 6 innocent people and the torture and relocation of so many more is a horrifying blemish on U.S. history that many may never have learned about.
Today, 97 years later, take some time to remember the names of these victims, and understand that while the horror that is Rosewood is past, there is still a long way to go in combatting racism in the U.S. almost 100 years later.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
- There is a 1996 book titled "Like Judgement Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood" byMike D'Orso.
- There is a movie titled "Rosewood" from 1997 directed by John Singleton, with survivors and family members consulting.
- Article reference 2 below has a ton of information I would recommend reading. Journalist Jessica Glenza's writing is great and there are many first-hand accounts of the massacre included.