September 6, 2007

Rosewood, Florida

Rosewood, Florida is one of those Southern villages like Philadelphia, Mississippi that claims little history other than violence. There is nothing to distinguish in the tourist guides for "off-the-beaten-track" or "forgotten" Florida landmarks beyond the massacre that took place on January 4th 1923.

Rosewood sheltered 150 to 200 people, but had churches and a school and enough distance to distinguish it from Sumner and the other villages nearby.

On New Year's Day, a white woman in Sumner accused a unnamed black man of attacking her, and a search party with dogs formed. For a week, the gang attacked Rosewood, believing it harbored the attacker. They burned the school, churches, and every home but one in the village. Some whites lived in Rosewood, and a few helped women and children to escape.

Accounts differ on exactly how many people died, but the figure could be as high as 30 or 40--enough so that the survivors never returned and lived with nightmares.

By the time Lawton Chiles came into the world in 1930, lynchings were coming to an end in Florida, but the state was still relatively small and 7 years is a short time--enough to be "recent" history. The kind you read in the newspaper not a book.

This was the world he knew was a boy.

The massacre came to his desk in 1994, when as governor he signed a bill giving millions in compensation to the survivors and descendants of Rosewood. Governor Chiles called the killing a "blind act of bigotry."

(Photo credit to Florida State Archives)

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