THE ROSEWOOD MASSACRE REPORT
There is a bill before the Florida Legislature to provide $7,000,000 million in compensation to the vic- tims and descendants of victims of the Rosewood Massacre of 1923.*
As consideration of that bill draws near, the editors of the Tallahassee Democrat's opinion pages offer the full text of a report on the 1923 white riot in Levy County that destroyed the black township of Rosewood and claimed eight lives, maybe more. The report is a chilling and disturbing account of events 71 years ago and is well worth reading.
The report was produced by a team of researchers from Florida A&M University, Florida State and the University of Florida and released in December. The House of Representatives appropriated $50,000 to pay for the research.
The text of the report follows:
A DOCUMENTED HISTORY OF THE INCIDENT
WHICH OCCURRED AT
SUBMITTED TO THE FLORIDA BOARD OF REGENTS DECEMBER 22, 1993
Associate Professor Maxine D. Jones
Professor Larry E. Rivers
Professor David R. Colburn
R. Tom Dye
Professor William W. Rogers
"There is but one way to know the truth, and that is not a golden one. It is fraught with toil and sacrifice and perhaps ridicule. The seeker of the truth must be fearless, he must not be afraid to enter the innermost holies of holies, and to tear down the veils of superstition that hang about any human and so-called divine institution. It is the truth that makes men free. If the truth tears down every church and government under the sun, let the truth be known and this truth only will be known when men cease to swallow the capsules of ancient doctors of divin- ities and politics; and when men begin to seek the truth in the records of history, politics, reli- gion, and science."
Four black men in McClenny are removed from the local jail and lynched for the alleged rape of a white woman.Rosewood's black residents flee into the swamps.
One black church is burned, and several unprotected homes.
Lexie Gordon is murdered.
Approximately 200-300 whites from surrounding areas begin to converge on Rosewood.Mingo Williams is murdered.
Governor Cary Hardee is notified, and Sheriff Walker reports that he fears "no further disorder."The Sheriff of Alachua County arrives in Rosewood to assist Sheriff Walker.
James Carrier is murdered.
A train evacuates refugees to Gainesville.INTRODUCTION/OVERVIEW
Racial unrest and violence against African Americans permeated domestic developments in the United States during the post-World War I era. From individual lynchings to massive violence against entire black communities, whites in both the North and the South lashed out against black Americans with a rage that knew few bounds. From Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs pursued what can only be described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the period from 1917 to 1923. In Chicago, Illinois, for example, law and order was suspended for 13 days in July 1919 as white mobs made foray after foray into black neighborhoods, killings and wounding 365 black residents and leaving another 1,000 homeless. In June 1921, the black section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was almost burned out and thousands were left homeless following racial violence by white residents.
What had happened to the public's commitment to make the "World Safe for Democracy" that had become the national by-words during World War I? And why had white citizens turned against black Americans with such fury, after many had participated directly in the war effort and others had patriotically supported it? And finally how did Rosewood and Florida fit into these racial developments?
During the second decade of the twentieth century, African Americans began to leave the South in record numbers to escape the oppression of segregation and the economic havoc created by the boll weevil's devastation of the cotton crop. They were also drawn to the North by the promise of economic opportunity and greater freedom. Over 40,000 black Floridians joined 283,000 African Americans from other southern states in the migration to Chicago and other midwestern and northeastern cities where a shortage of labor had created great demand for black workers. Labor agents from northern industries and railroads descended on the South in search of black workers. The Pennsylvania Railroad, for example, brought 12,000 to work in its yards and on its tracks, all but 2,000 of whom came from Florida and Georgia.
In a recent study, two historians argue that, while all these issues were important, African Americans went north principally because of the mounting racial violence in the South. With the number of lynchings averaging over 40 per year, the threat of lynching and mob violence had become a serious threat to the average black citizen. As one older study of the black migration noted, both whites and blacks believed that lynching were "one of the most important causes" and that the fear of the mob had greatly accelerated the exodus.
Recruiting efforts by the agents of northern businesses and especially the notion that someone would actually want their services and be willing to pay a decent salary for it, was a new and welcomed experience for black southerners. Not only was there work in midwestern and northeastern cities, but the pay was dramatically higher than what a black American could make in Florida and in other southern states, and they could also vote and move about freely. Many African Americans thought they had found the promised land, and they wrote to their relatives and friends encouraging them to follow in their footsteps.
In Florida and the South, the response of whites to the massive departure of black residents was mixed. Initially, white southerners ignored or expressed satisfaction with the exodus. For many years, up to the turn of the twentieth century, white Floridians had seriously discussed sending local blacks to a foreign country or to a western region of the United States. For example, Napoleon Broward, while serving as governor from 1905-1909, proposed that Congress purchase territory, either foreign or domestic, and transport blacks to such regions where they could live separate lives and govern themselves.
The massive migration, racial stereotypes, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and the gradual build-up in preparation for World War I combined to increase racial tensions in ways the nation had not seen since Reconstruction. African Americans viewed the migration as an opportunity for freedom and opportunity outside the South. Whites worried that information sent by northern blacks to friends and family in the South would create unrest in the region. Adding to white concerns was the rapid expansion in the membership of the National Association for the Advanced People (NAACP) during the years from 1914 to 1920. The NAACP was increasingly condemned by southern whites for raising black expectations and for promoting racial unrest in the region.
Underscoring much of the racial hostility were stereotypes and misconceptions that pervaded white America. In his study of the race riot in Chicago in 1919, William Tuttle noted that whites believed that blacks "were mentally inferior, immoral, emotional, and criminal. Some secondary beliefs were that they were innately lazy, shiftless, boisterous, bumptious, and lacking in civic consciousness." Many whites accepted these racial rationalizations because they wanted to, and their newspapers reinforced such attitudes by publishing stories that highlighted black crimes and immoral behavior and by seldom reporting positively about the daily lives of black citizens. Many whites had such a low opinion of blacks that they were prepared to treat them in the most inhumane fashion whenever they felt themselves threatened by the minority.
The revival of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in 1915 reflected the racial concerns of whites both in the North and the South. In that year, the motion picture "The Birth of a Nation," based on Thomas Dixon's book The Clansman, sparked great interest in the activities of the first Klan among whites and spurred its revival. The movie ran for 47 weeks in New York alone and portrayed the Klan in heroic and romantic terms, particularly in its conclusions when the Klan rode to save southern civilization from the cowardly black militia. Even President Woodrow Wilson endorsed the film, claiming that "It is like writing history with lightning and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." Although the movie grossly distorted the reality of Reconstruction, it coincided with white concerns about the black migration and their growing hostility toward racial and ethnic differences in American society. Wherever the movie was shown, race relations deteriorated and racial violence frequently occurred.
The second Klan spread rapidly throughout the South and into many northern communities as well following the showing of The Birth of a Nation. Often allied with local police and sheriff's departments — indeed many police and sheriff's deputies moonlighted as Klansmen — the hooded order sought to intimidate blacks into quietly accepting segregation. Throughout this period, the Klan enjoyed a legitimacy in many areas of the country that it has not experienced since.
Political and economic leaders in these communities belonged to the Klan, and the members often conducted publicly advertised parades through the center of southern communities. The ceremonies were much like patriotic gatherings of veterans on July 4th, with large crowds of whites cheering Klan members. In an editorial in the Gainesville Daily Sun in 1922, the editor noted that he had belonged to the Klan and praised many of its noble qualities.
The spatial and social dislocation that occurred with the mobilization effort for World War I enhanced contact between whites and blacks. This seemingly new arrangement made whites, especially those in the South, uncomfortable. In particular, the arming and training of black soldiers in the South heightened fears among white natives. Although the Army was committed to mobilizing an African American division, its commanders, as well as politicians, worried about where to train the troops in light of southern concerns. The 92nd division was eventually trained at two places in the North, but many other black troops received their training or were stationed in the South. Skirmishes between whites and blacks often occurred in southern communities when black soldiers came to town, and the threat of more serious violence seemed ever present. German propaganda added considerably to white anguish, especially when such propaganda called on African Americans to lay down their arms or turn them against their real enemies — southern whites. In August 1917, white fears materialized when armed black soldiers killed seventeen white residents of Houston, Texas, following a prolonged period of racial insults and harassment.
Escalating racial confrontations and rumors during the war years portended ill for race rela- tions during the postwar period. Clashes occurred in many southern communities between black soldiers and local whites, although none as severe as the incident in Houston. At East St. Louis, Illinois, black competition for white jobs ignited a fierce race riot on July 2, 1917, in which nine whites and thirty-nine blacks lost their lives, and black homes were ndiscriminately torched. Over 300 buildings valued above $500,000 were destroyed in the black section of town. Shouts of "Burn 'em out" were heard throughout the violence and would become the battle cry of the white mob during the postwar period.
Rumors also circulated in the States in 1918 that black soldiers had been warmly received in Europe and had had their way with white women in France. Back home, white militants warned that black veterans would no longer be content with black women when they returned from Europe.
As the massive exodus of African Americans continued from the northern counties of Florida during the war years, Governors Park Trammell (1913-1917) and his successor Sidney Catts (1917-1921) essentially ignored it. Trammell, who had been the state's Attorney General prior to becoming governor, was no friend of black Floridians. During his Attorney Generalship, he had disregarded the lynching of 29 blacks and did the same when another 21 were lynched during his governorship. Catts had been elected on a platform that was anti-Catholic and anti-black. Once in office, he publicly labeled black residents as part of "an inferior race," and refused to criticize two lynchings in 1919. When the NAACP complained about these lynchings, Catts wrote denouncing the organization and blacks generally, declaring that "Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would . . . [teach] your people not to kill our white officers and disgrace our white women, you would keep down a thousand times greater disgrace."
Catts reversed himself, however, when white business leaders, especially those in the lumber and turpentine business, began to complain that the continued out migration of blacks was having a devastating effect on labor availability and labor costs in Florida. Suddenly Catts urged blacks to stay in Florida, and called for unity and harmony among the races. Officials in Jacksonville charged labor agents a $1,000 licensing fee for recruiting black citizens and on occasion threatened their lives to discourage them from persuading more blacks to leave. Few black citizens listened to Catts or were intimidated by threats. The migration continued to escalate as a quiet protest against racial conditions in the South.
With the end of World War I, racial concerns about the black migration and returning black veterans coincided with the resurgence of nativism. Native Americans worried that their society was being overrun by people who had values and political beliefs drastically different from theirs. Madison Grant [1865-1937] captured their concerns in a book entitled The Passing of the Great Race, which was reissued in 1921 and 1922 and in which Grant warned that the great Nordic race was being endangered by the increasing numbers of inferior peoples, especially blacks. The massive wave of immigration prior to World War I and the growing presence of African Americans in the nation's cities spurred nativist opposition. The second Ku Klux Klan, in particular played upon American concerns about difference by attacking both blacks and immigrants indiscriminately.
Social unrest created havoc with the nation's adjustment to post-World War I conditions. Urban workers complained bitterly about low hourly wages and working conditions, and many went on strike. The involvement of recent immigrants in the labor unrest and in the socialist movement in 1919 and 1920 led some to believe that American institutions were threatened by ethnic and racial militants. Fear became so widespread that many alleged that communist labor groups, in particular, with allies in the NAACP, were plotting to overthrow the United States.
Racial hostilities in the North were further heightened by continued immigration of black southerners and the expansion of black neighborhoods into white residential areas. In Chicago, a peaceful beach scene on July 27, 1919, turned violent when whites stoned a teenaged black swimmer who allegedly crossed over into the white area. Racial encounters occurred throughout the city on the following day with both groups arming themselves and attacking one another. By the second day, two armed camps had formed and whites assaulted the black residential area on the south side of the city. For thirteen days, Chicago was literally without law and order as the violence went back and forth. Over 38 people were killed, another 520 wounded, and 1,000 people lost their homes in the nation's worst race riot. The violence in Chicago, East St. Louis, Omaha, and several other northern communities left the dreams and aspirations of black citizens shattered.
As events in Chicago and East St. Louis made clear, black citizens had changed their attitude about white violence and intimidation. No longer content to sit quietly by while mobs stormed their communities and destroyed their property, blacks began to defend themselves against the mounting violence. Claude McKay paid tribute to this militant "New Negro" in a poem, "If We Must Die," written during the epidemic of race riots that were sweeping the country in 1919:
Encouraged by McKay's poem and by the urging of the NAACP and other black leaders, blacks now appeared in public with rifles at their sides. They also volunteered to protect black prisoners whose lives were threatened by a white mob. In Tulsa a band of armed blacks arrived at the jail to offer their assistance to police officers who were outmanned and outgunned in trying to protect black prisoners from a hostile white crowd. In other southern communities, black residents increasingly carried weapons to protect themselves against the rising tide of lynch ing. The notion of an armed black population in their midst sent shivers through the white com- munity and contributed to a paranoia that fed racial fears and hostility.If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Newspapers added to white fears by publishing a daily litany of alleged racial attacks and alleged rapes against white women. A day seldom went by during the period from 1917 to 1923 in which an incident of this kind was not reported in headlines on the front pages. Violent retribution was the accepted manner of response in the South, in particular, but also in the North for crimes against white women. Lynchings steadily escalated from 38 in 1917 to 58 in 1918. During the period from 1918 to 1927, lynch mobs took the lives of 454 persons, of whom 416 were African American. In Florida, 47 black citizens were lynched during the same period. It was open season on African Americans, with minute violations of southern racial codes often sufficient to warrant execution. So violent did the communities become that public notices were placed in newspapers inviting people to come and watch the burning of a live Negro.
Florida was part and parcel of this frenzied violence. In addition to the 47 blacks who died by lynching, the Klan attacked the black community of Ocoee, Florida, in the western part of Orange County, in November 1920 and destroyed several homes when two local black citizens — Mose Norman and July Perry attempted to vote. Approximately six black residents and two whites were killed in the violence, and twenty-five black homes, two churches, and a lodge were destroyed. At Perry, in December 1922, one month before the Rosewood incident, a white school teacher was murdered by an escaped convict. The man and an alleged accomplice were quickly captured by the sheriff and placed in the Perry jail. Local whites, joined by men from as far away as Georgia and South Carolina, took the two black men from the Sheriff and his deputies and badly beat Charlie Wright, the fugitive convict, hoping to extract a confession and to determine if others was [sic] involved. Wright, however, refused to indict any one else in the crime. He was subsequently burned at the stake, and two other black men, who were suspected of being involved in the teacher's murder, were shot and hanged, although they were never implicated in the crime. Following the murders, the white mob turned against the entire black community and burned their church, masonic lodge, amusement hall, and black school. Several homes were also torched.
The Perry story, recounted on the front page of the Gainesville Sun from December 4-13, left the area's white and black citizens in a state of high tension. The day after events in Perry concluded, the Sun reported that two blacks killed a white farmer at Jacobs, Florida, near Marianna. Whites lived in great fear, apparently persuaded that blacks were bent on randomly killing whites. Black residents of the area seemed to understand that they were sitting on a tinder box that might well explode again at any moment. In less than a month the black community of Rosewood felt the iron hand of the white mob.
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