Rosewood Florida 1923

Preserving the History of Rosewood

By Diane Bedard Posted on January 27, 2020

On February 5, 2020, Lizzie Robinson Jenkins will speak about Preserving the History of Rosewood at the Valerie Theatre Cultural Center in downtown Inverness. This event will begin at 7 pm and tickets are $6. per person.

The Rosewood massacre was a racially motivated massacre of black people and the destruction of a rural Levy County town that took place during the first week of January 1923.

At least six black people and two white people were killed, though eyewitness accounts suggested a higher death toll of 27 to 150, including many blacks and whites. The town of Rosewood was destroyed in what contemporary news reports characterized as a race riot.

It began with a white woman from the nearby town of Sumner who claimed a black man beat her. This led to accusations and exaggerations causing local whites to organize and hunt in mobs for an escaped prisoner in Rosewood. Rosewood residents became aware of the danger and defended themselves, resulting in the 1923s massacre.

Image of a Rosewood home being burned during the Rosewood massacre January 4, 1923. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Then Silence was heard around Rosewood

The town was literally destroyed, with homes burned to the ground and the national media covered it – both black papers and white papers (this was a segregated society). Several black residents escaped through the swamps and hammocks, and many were killed. A grand jury investigation was held in February 1923, in Gainesville, but no-one was convicted.

Soon, the news media stopped covering the story and those who were involved did not want to talk about it, likely fearing for their safety. Rosewood and the Rosewood massacre seemed to be forgotten.

The black community of Rosewood never returned. Their land was confiscated under tax fraudulent sales. Many left for other cities, losing touch with each other. Some never shared the Rosewood story with family members. Some changed their names.

There is more information on the story at The Real Rosewood Foundation, which Lizzie began at her mother’s request.

Image of a New York Times headline about Rosewood’s Massacre from January 1923. Image courtesy of Florida State Archives.

Rosewood’s Original Settlement

Rosewood was settled in 1847, nine miles (14 km) east of Cedar Key, near the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the local economy drew on the timber industry; the name Rosewood refers to the reddish color of cut cedarwood.

Two pencil mills were founded nearby in Cedar Key; local residents also worked in several turpentine mills and a sawmill three miles (4.8 km) away in Sumner, in addition to the farming of citrus and cotton. The hamlet grew enough to warrant the construction of a post office and train depot on the Florida Railroad in 1870, but it was never incorporated as a town.

E. Farber’s Cedar Mill, with workers posing out front. 1896. Cedar Key. Image courtesy of State of Florida Archives Reference Collection.

Lizzie Robinson Jenkins shares the History of the Rosewood Massacre

A Rosewood descendant, Lizzie Robinson Jenkins, has spent over twenty-five years researching and fact-finding on Rosewood and its tragedy. She was instrumental in sharing much family information for the Rosewood movie.

Lizzie Robinson Jenkins is a descendant of a Rosewood survivor, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier. Lizzie Robinson Jenkins will present the history of Rosewood February 5, 2020, at the Valerie Theatre in Inverness. Image courtesy of The Real Rosewood Foundation.

Her Aunt, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier, an Archer, Florida, native, was the Rosewood schoolteacher, 1915-1923 and a 1923 Rosewood survivor.

She and Jenkins mother provided oral histories of events and of Rosewood families. These stories encouraged Jenkins to further seek the truth about Rosewood.

Once she started her journey, she was motivated to research the laws of Florida during that era and unveil the dirty hidden secrets of Rosewood as told by her aunt to her mother, and from her mother to Jenkins.

The Rosewood Historical Marker was installed in 2004, ten years after Governor Lawton Chiles signed a bill providing compensation to those who survived.

Jenkins secured the Rosewood Historical Marker making certain her aunt’s name is encrypted as Rosewood’s teacher. The 2000 Great Floridians initiative recognized Mahulda Carrier as a 2000 Great Floridian.

The Rosewood Historical Marker Text:

Racial violence erupted in the small and quiet Rosewood community January 1-7, 1923. Rosewood, a predominantly colored community, was home to the Bradley, Carrier, Carter, Goins, and Hall families, among others. Residence supported a school taught by Mahulda “Gussie” Brown Carrier, three churches, and a Masonic lodge. Many of them owned their homes, some were business owners, and others worked in nearby Sumner and at the Cummer Lumber Mill. This quiet life came to the end on January 1, 1923, when a white Sumner woman accused a black man of assaulting her. In the search for her alleged attacker, whites terrorized and killed Rosewood residents. In the days of fear and violence that followed, many Rosewood citizens sought refuge in the nearby woods. White merchants John M. Wright and other courageous whites sheltered some of the fleeing men, women and children. Whites burned Rosewood and looted livestock and property; two were killed while taking it home. Five blacks also lost their lives: Sam Carter, who was tortured for information and shot to death on January 1; Sarah Carrier; Lexie Gordon; James Carrier; and Mingo Williams. Those who survived were forever scarred.

The text of the Rosewood Historic marker provides a concise description of the horrors of 1923’s “race riot,” which destroyed the lives of Rosewood’s residents.

Haunted by what happened. Rosewood residence took a vow of Silence, lived in fear and never return to claim their property. That silence was broken seventy-one years later. In 1994 survivors including Minnie Lee Langley, Arnett Turner Goins, and Wilson Hall, filled a claims bill in Florida’s Legislature. A Special Master, an expert appointed by the Speaker of the House, ruled that the state had a “moral obligation” to compensate survivors for their loss of property, violations of constitutional rights, and mental anguish. On May 4, 1994, Governor Lawton Chiles signed a $2.1 million compensation bill. Nine survivors received $150,000 each for mental anguish, and a state university scholarship fund was established for the families of Rosewood and their descendants. A fund was also established to compensate those Rosewood families who could demonstrate property loss. This Historical Marker was dedicated by Governor Jeb Bush in May 2004.

Congressman Ted Yoho was the first elected official to acknowledge and recognize the Rosewood History in the Halls of Congress in 2019. Image from Congressman Yoho’s website.

Congressman Yoho acknowledges Rosewood History in 2019

Lizzie Robinson Jenkins is a member of St. Joseph Missionary Baptist Church, Democratic Women Club, Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, Archer Historic Society, ACPO, Charmettes, Matheson History Museum, League of Women Voters, Florida’s Sheriff Association, a Life member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and the NAACP.

Because of her dedication to preserving the history of Rosewood, U.S Congressman Ted Yoho said, “Madam Speaker I rise today to honor the memory of Rosewood and reflect upon that tragedy that happened in 1923. Rosewood is a small rural town in my district and my constituent Lizzie Jenkins remembers the forgotten history.”

Congressman Yoho was the first elected official to acknowledge and recognize the Rosewood History in the Halls of Congress, on CSPAN Live, July 25, 2019. Watch this historic moment here:

This historic Valerie Theater is the place to see Lizzie Robinson Jenkins will speak about Preserving the History of Rosewood February 5, 2020. Image by Diane Bedard.

Get to the Valerie Theatre February 5 to help Remember Rosewood

Now there is the opportunity to hear about the history of Rosewood and what happened there from one of the descendants of the town’s 1923 survivors, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier.

Be sure to come to the Valerie Theatre Cultural Center on February 5, 2020, to hear Lizzie Robinson Jenkins will speak about Preserving the History of Rosewood. This event will begin at 7 pm and tickets are $6. per person. They can be purchased here.

Tickets for all live performances are non-refundable.

Visitors may also view the movie, Rosewood, starring Jon Voight, Ving Rhames, and Don Cheadle. Directed by John Singleton on Friday, February 7 at 7:30 pm at the Valerie Theatre, located at 207 Courthouse Square in
Inverness, Florida.

Information sources for this article provided by The Real Rosewood Foundation and Wikipedia.



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