On New Year’s Eve in 1922, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Gainesville Florida, not far from the small, mostly Black town of Rosewood. That year, a white schoolteacher in a nearby town was murdered, allegedly by a Black man.
The event simmered in the mind of white citizens who lived near and around Rosewood. A year later, those tensions erupted into the Rosewood massacre. Based on the rumors that a white woman was assaulted, an angry mob torched the town, forcing its citizens to evacuate.
On January 1, 1923, a group of white men entered Rosewood looking for Jesse Hunter. Twenty-two-year-old Fannie Taylor accused Hunter of breaking into her home. As rumors spread of the supposed crime, so did a changing set of allegations. Before long, Hunter was said to have robbed and physically assaulted Taylor. The county sheriff rounded up some 400 white men, deputized some of them and went on a manhunt.
Angry whites formed mobs and began handing out their own brand of justice in the coming days. The group caught a local blacksmith, Sam Carter, and tortured him before lynching him. Fires and gunshots increased as the situation grew more tense. Rosewood citizens fled the city into nearby swamps as the town went up in flames.
The white mob’s actions couldn’t be contained, and reports of the dead were conflicting. Some papers wrote that as many as 20 blacks were killed, although most reports put the number at six. Just two whites were reported dead after the melee. There is no offiical number of those lost.
Two white train conductors, John and William Bryce, helped Black evacuees escape to Gainesville. They would only pick up women and children, fearing that the mobs would soon attack them for helping any Black men.White citizens in the town of Sumner also assisted in rescue efforts, hiding Black Rosewood citizens inside their homes.
Although the mobs had already turned Rosewood into a ghost town, they returned on January 7 to burn any remaining standing buildings. Outrage at the massace made it all the way to the governor’s office but no charges were filed against anyone involved.
Even white residents of the region voiced their disapproval, although it’s been speculated that much of that had to do with lost revenue from a decline in tourism afterwards. Justice of a sort was had when in 1994, the Florida Lesiglature signed into effect the “Rosewood Bill,” which awarded $150,000 to the nine suriving members of the massacare due to the combined efforts of journalists and survivors.
The last of the survivors, Robie Robinson Mortin, died in 2010. John Singleton directed the 1997 film Rosewood, which was based on the events of that week.