The post-World War I era in the United States was marked by both rapid economic growth and racially motivated violence. During the period of 1917 and 1923, there are numerous instances of large-scale violence inflicted upon predominately black communities such as Chicago, Illinois and Tulsa. Among them is an under reported town of rural Florida called Rosewood which endured what is now considered a massacre.
In the early morning of New Year’s day of 1923, Fannie Taylor reported that she was attacked by an unidentified black man. News of the accusation spread to the neighbouring, predominantly white, community of Sumner and adjacent counties. A white mob was swiftly organized, descended upon the town of Rosewood and captured an innocent black man named Sam Carter. Carter was lynched and shot to death.
The white vigilantes returned just two days later, as they claimed the real perpetrator was still in the Rosewood community. This time, the residents fought back as they barricaded their homes and shot at the mob. The Carrier household was targeted but Sylvester Carrier killed two white men as they tried to burn down his house. Taylor’s accusation and the subsequent violence was ill timed as it came just days after a Ku Klux Klan rally in nearby Gainesville.
Fearing the brutal cost of killing white people, the residents began to flee. Some women and children hid in the swamps and forest, others were hidden by white neighbours in the area. A white mob of approximately 200 white people swarmed Rosewood and began to systematically burn down the town and murder whoever they could find. During this hideous act of unmitigated destruction, a train was brought through town at 4 A.M in the morning to pick up women and children who had moved to the swamps and endured several cold, wet nights. The black residents of Rosewood scattered, deserting their homes, never to return.
Eyewitnesses and oral accounts suggest that Taylor fabricated her claim in order to hide her extramarital affair and be spared of her husband’s anger. A grand jury investigation was convened in Bronson in November of 1923, but the jury found “insufficient evidence” to prosecute. To this day, no has been arrested and the records have been lost. In an attempt to gain some sort of justice, a few former Rosewood residents filed a lawsuit against the State of Florida and won a $2.1 Million Settlement in 1994. Financial compensation is only the first step in the quest for justice for the centuries of interpersonal, symbolic, and structural violence black people have endured around the world.
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