On January 1, 1923 a massacre was carried out in the small, predominantly black town of Rosewood in Central Florida. The massacre was instigated by the rumor that a white woman, Fanny Taylor, had been sexually assaulted by a black man in her home in a nearby community. A group of white men, believing this rapist to be a recently escaped convict named Jesse Hunter who was hiding in Rosewood, assembled to capture this man.Prior this event a series of incidents had stirred racial tensions within Rosewood. During the previous winter of 1922 a white school teacher from Perry had been murdered and on New Years Eve of 1922 there was a Ku Klux Klan rally held in Gainesville, located not far away from Rosewood.In response to the allegation by Taylor, white men began to search for Jesse Hunter, Aaron Carrier and Sam Carter who were believed to be accomplices. Carrier was captured and incarcerated while Carter was lynched. The white mob suspected Aaron’s cousin, Sylvester Carrier, a Rosewood resident of harboring the fugitive, Jesse Hunter.On January 4, 1923 a group of 20 to 30 white men approached the Carrier home and shot the family dog. When Sylvester’s mother Sarah came to the porch to confront the mob they shot and killed her. Sylvester defended his home, killing two men and wounding four in the ensuing battle before he too was killed. The remaining survivors fled to the swamps for refuge where many of the African American residents of Rosewood had already retreated, hoping to avoid the rising conflict and increasing racial tension.The next day the white mob burned the Carrier home before joining with a group of 200 men from surrounding towns who had heard erroneously that a black man had killed two white men. As night descended the mob attacked the town, slaughtering animals and burning buildings. An official report claims six blacks killed along with two whites. Other accounts suggest a larger total. At the end of the carnage only two buildings remained standing, a house and the town general store.
Many of the black residents of Rosewood who fled to the swamps were evacuated on January 6 by two local train conductors, John and William Bryce. Many others were hidden by John Wright, the owner of the general store. Other black residents of Rosewood fled to Gainesville and to northern cities. As a consequence of the massacre, Rosewood became deserted.
The initial report of the Rosewood incident presented less than a month after the massacre claimed there was insufficient evidence for prosecution. Thus no one was charged with any of the Rosewood murders. In 1994, however, as the result of new evidence and renewed interest in the event, the Florida Legislature passed the Rosewood Bill which entitled the nine survivors to $150,000 dollars each in compensation.
Originally, the compensation total offered to survivors was $7 million, which aroused controversy. The legislature eventually settled on $1.5 million: this would enable payment of pay $150,000 to each person who could prove he or she lived in Rosewood during 1923, and provide a $500,000 pool for people who could apply for the funds after demonstrating that they had an ancestor who owned property in Rosewood during the same time. The four survivors who testified automatically qualified; four others had to apply. More than 400 applications were received from around the world.
Robie Mortin came forward as a survivor during this time; she was the only one added to the list who could prove she lived in Rosewood in 1923, totaling nine survivors who were compensated. Gaining compensation changed some families, whose members began to fight among themselves. Some descendants refused it, while others went into hiding to avoid the press of friends and relatives who came asking for handouts. Some descendants, after dividing the funds among siblings, received not much more than $100 each. Later, the Florida Department of Education set up the Rosewood Family Scholarship Fund for Rosewood descendants and ethnic minorities.
“Documented History of the Incident Which Occurred at Rosewood, Florida, In January 1923.” The Rosewood Report History, December 22, 1993. http://www.displaysforschools.com/rosewoodrp.html; “Marking Rosewood History.” The Real Rosewood. 2007. http://www.rosewoodflorida.com/.