Founding of Rosewood
Rosewood was established circa 1855 in Levy County, Florida on a road leading to Cedar Key and the Gulf of Mexico. It is believed to have taken its name from the abundant red cedar trees that grew in the area. Rosewood prospered as the Florida Railroad established a small depot to handle the transport of cedar wood to the pencil factory in Cedar Key and the transportation of timber, turpentine rosin, citrus, vegetables, and cotton. In 1890, the cedar depleted and many of the white families moved to Sumner, three miles west of Rosewood, and worked at the newfound saw mill established by Cummer & Sons. By 1900, Rosewood had a majority of black citizens
The Rosewood Massacre
On the morning of January 1, 1923, Fannie Coleman Taylor, a married white woman and homemaker of Sumner, Florida, claimed a black man assaulted her. No one disputed her account. No questions were asked. On her word alone, a vicious mob formed, led by her husband, James Taylor. The mob grew as white residents joined from neighboring Alachua County, where there was a large number of Klu Klux Klan members were rallying at the courthouse square on December 31, 1922 in Gainesville. Vengeful and ravenous for blood, the mob packed their gear and headed to a town called Rosewood to destroy it at any cost. They combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect, any suspicious black man.
For three days, the frenzied mob continued their hunt in Rosewood for any living being killing, raping, pillaging, and burning the town to the ground. There were seven reported deaths resulting from the massacre 5 African Americans murdered, 2 whites killed in self defense. There is no way of knowing how many people actually were murdered in the massacre or perished in the surrounding swampland attempting escape. Those who survived were hidden away in the home of John and Mary Wright, white residents of Rosewood. Many others fled to the woods and swamps under cover of darkness, where they awaited the midnight train that carried them to safety.
On February 12, 1923, a special grand jury was empaneled to investigate the massacre. After twenty five white and a rumored eight black witnesses testified, the jurors reported that they could find no evidence on which to base any indictments. The black community of Rosewood never returned. Their land was confiscated and sold. Many left for other cities, losing touch with each other. Some never shared the Rosewood story with family members. Some created new identities and remained on the run. The collective memory of Rosewood continued to haunt the survivors and nearby Black communities for decades.
In 1994, the Florida House and Senate passed the Rosewood Claim Bill 591, signed into law by Governor Lawton Chiles. The law allocated $1.5 million of state funds to compensate the survivors of the massacre. Another $500,000 were allocated to compensate descendant families of Rosewood residents who lost their property.
Just a few years later, in 1997, John Singleton directed a major motion picture about the Rosewood massacre. Title Rosewood, the film offers a dramatized version of events, which helped to bring the awareness to the true-life attack.
In 2004, the State of Florida erected the Rosewood Historical Marker near the former home of John Wright, a white Rosewood resident who offered shelter and safety to his Black neighbors during the massacre. The house is the last standing structure at Rosewood and is under private ownership.
Despite the legislative action and 30 decades worth of news reporting, the town of Rosewood and the massacre are still unknown to many. For this reason, Lizzie Polly Robinson Jenkins established the Real Rosewood Foundation, Inc. in 2003 to advance the preservation and public education of Rosewood’s history.
Lest We Forget
The Foundation is committed to honoring the victims, survivors, and descendants of Rosewood. Through remembrance and education, we ensure that the names of those murdered in the massacre will not be forgotten: