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1923 Rosewood Massacre: A Harrowing Story of Violence and Racism

Story Behind the 1923 Rosewood Massacre
The Rosewood Massacre was a series of riots that took place in the small town of Rosewood in Florida, in January 1923. Several black residents of the town were tortured, killed, and wounded during the riots; many houses were burned down, and a number of families were destroyed.
Prajakta Patil
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Did You Know?
The official number of blacks killed due to the Rosewood Massacre was 6. However, researchers claim that at least 27 black residents had died, and that the actual number of fatalities was never reported.
The town of Rosewood was settled in 1845, nine miles east to the Cedar Key, Florida, near the Gulf of Mexico. The cultivation of citrus and cotton, as well as the growth of the timber industry, gave rise to the construction of a train depot and a post office in the town, in 1870. Initially, the population of Rosewood included both whites and blacks. However, after the pencil mills in the town were closed, most of the whites migrated to other cities, and by 1900, the population in Rosewood had become predominantly black. By the year 1920, the blacks were in possession of a sugarcane mill, a turpentine mill, three churches, a few general stores, and some schools.
Background of the Massacre
During the 19th century, the whites would often try to establish white supremacy, by lynching black men. This was often done on the grounds of accusing the blacks of attacking or raping white women. In 1919, there was a mass racial violence in several cities in the north due to the competition for jobs as well as place. During the 19th and 20th century, Florida along with other southern states passed various laws and constitutions to disfranchise the blacks, thereby creating barriers in their voting registrations. This also led to their banishment in trials, legislature, local government, or any law enforcement. Additionally, Florida also passed the Jim Crow laws for separate public and transport facilities for the blacks and whites.

Lynching of the blacks had become very common. White mob action would frequently occur in Florida, and could not be controlled by the local law enforcement. Moreover, the membership of Ku Klux Klan, a nationwide organization against the blacks, was also growing. Elected officials in Florida were proving inefficient in easing the racial tension. In 1920, a few white men abducted four black men from a local jail and lynched them after accusing them of raping a white woman. The same year, two white election officials were shot in Ocoee, in a dispute over voting rights. As a result, the black community of Ocoee was completely destroyed by a white mob, causing over 30 deaths and destruction of 25 homes, 2 churches, and a Masonic Lodge. All this laid the foundation of the Rosewood Massacre.
A Chronology of Events
August 5, 1920 - Four black men in Macclenny are removed from the local jail and lynched, for being accused of raping a white woman.
November 2, 1920 - Two whites and five blacks are killed in Ocoee in a dispute over voting rights. The complete black community of Ocoee is destroyed, along with 25 homes, 2 churches, and a Masonic Lodge.
February 12, 1921 - Another black man is lynched in Wauchula for an alleged attack on a white woman.
December 9, 1922 - A black man in Perry is burned for an alleged murder of a white school teacher. Another Masonic Lodge, a black church, a school, and a meeting hall are burned.
December 31, 1922 - A large Ku Klux Klan Parade is held in Gainesville on New Year's Eve.
January 1, 1923 - Fannie Taylor files a report claiming she was sexually assaulted by a black man, early in the morning.

By the afternoon, Aaron Carrier has been comprehended by a posse, and is spirited out of the area by Sheriff Walker.

Late that afternoon, a black man named Sam Carter is killed by the posse.
January 2, 1923 - Armed white forces begin gathering in Sumner.
January 4, 1923 - Late that evening, white vigilantes attack the Carrier house. Several white men are wounded and killed in the attacks. A black woman named Sarah Carrier is killed in the Carrier house. Others inside the house are also killed or wounded.

All the black residents from Rosewood flee to swamps.

Another black church and numerous unprotected homes are burned down.
January 5, 1923 - Approximately 200 - 300 whites from surrounding areas approach Rosewood.

Governor Cary Hardee receives a telegram by Sheriff Walker saying that he fears "no further disorder."

James Carrier is brutally shot, after being forced to dig his own grave.
January 6, 1923 - Refugees approach Gainesville.
January 7, 1923 - A mob of 100 - 150 whites return to Rosewood, and burn all the remaining buildings.
February 11, 1923 - An official meeting of the Grand Jury is held in Bronson for the investigation of Rosewood riot.
February 15, 1923 - The Grand Jury declares to have found insufficient evidence to prosecute any of the accused.
The 1923 Rosewood Massacre
► On January 1, 1923, a white woman named Fannie Coleman Taylor from Sumner, Florida, reported that she had been assaulted by a black man early that morning. However, Taylor's laundress, Sarah Carrier, a black woman from Rosewood, who was present in the house that morning claimed that the man was in fact Taylor's white lover. According to her, the white man had assaulted Taylor, after they had a fight. In search of the victim, James Taylor, Fannie's husband summoned a posse and ordered a bunch of tracking dogs. The news of the assault spread in the neighboring communities over January 2nd and 3rd. The white locals were outraged at the thought of a black man abusing a white woman, since they were forbidden from even looking at them. A group of white vigilantes had arrived in Rosewood by January 4.

► At the same time, a Ku Klux Klan rally had been held in Gainsevlle, in opposition of justice for the blacks. James Taylor reported the incident to the KKK members and summoned help from them as well. This meant that a group of 500 Klansmen, determined and outraged, were now headed towards Sumner, at the appeal of James Taylor. Soon after their arrival, they spread out in the woods behind the Taylor residency in search of a suspect. Hours later, a black man named Jesse Hunter, who had allegedly escaped from a convict road gang, was suspected of the crime. No proof of his escape was ever provided though. A few hours later, a black man named Sam Carter, a local blacksmith, was tortured into admitting that he had helped Carter escape. He was alleged to have admitted of doing so. He was, therefore, forced by the posse to show them where he had last seen Hunter. When there was no trace of Hunter, the mob got infuriated. They tortured Sam for several hours, after which they riddled his body with bullets before hanging him from a tree.

► The posse continued to search for Hunter in Rosewood, during which one of the tracking dogs led them to Aaron Carrier, who was Carter's cousin and Sarah Carrier's nephew. The posse dragged Aaron outside his house, tied his neck to a car, and dragged him all the way from Rosewood to Sumner. They tortured him for hours, hitting him, kicking him, and beating him with guns. They planned to shoot him after he fell unconscious, but Sheriff Walker intervened, saying he would finish him later. This saved Carrier's life, even though he was held in jail for several months after the incident.

► On January 4, the gathered posse attacked the Carrier house, in which about 15 to 25 blacks had taken refuge. The blacks fought back, thereby wounding two white men. Sarah Carrier was shot in the head during this attack. After shooting for several hours, the posse finally stopped after they ran out of ammunition. As they left Rosewood, they burned down several houses and black churches. On January 5, Sarah Carrier's son, James returned to Rosewood from the swamps. He asked a saw mill supervisor for refuge. However, the mob found him and brutally shot him, after asking him to dig his own grave.

► As the news of blacks attacking the whites spread around, up to 300 angry white men from Gainesville, Starke, and Perry had gathered in Levy County by January 6. Over the next two days, they burned down the remaining property in Rosewood. All the residents of Rosewood had fled by the time. The town was completely abandoned, and no one ever returned. The survivors even changed their names, fearing they would be tracked down.
No one was ever arrested for the murders committed in Rosewood. An all-white grand jury was set up in Levy County during February 1923 for investigating the matter. However, the case was closed on account of insufficient evidence to make any indictments.