Rosewood Massacre   Leave a comment


Rosewood Massacre

Fannie Taylor’s storyThe Rosewood massacre was provoked when a white woman in Sumner claimed she had been assaulted by a black man. Frances “Fannie” Taylor was 22 years old in 1923 and married to James, a 30-year-old millwright employed by Cummer & Sons. They lived in Sumner, where the mill was located, with their two young children. James’ job required him to leave each day during the darkness of early morning. Neighbors remembered Fannie Taylor as “very peculiar”. She was meticulously clean, scrubbing her cedar floors with bleach so that they shone white. Other women attested that Taylor was aloof; no one knew her very well.[16]

On January 1, 1923, the Taylors’ neighbor reported that she heard a scream while it was still dark, grabbed her revolver and ran next door to find Fannie bruised and beaten, with scuff marks across the white floor. Taylor was screaming that someone needed to get her baby. She said a black man was in her house; he had come through the back door and assaulted her. The neighbor found the baby, but no one else.[16] Taylor’s initial report stated her assailant beat her about the face but did not rape her. Rumors circulated—widely believed by whites in Sumner—that she was both raped and robbed.[17][note 1] The charge was inflammatory in the South: the day before, the Klan had held a parade and rally of over 100 hooded Klansmen 50 miles (80 km) away in Gainesville under a burning cross and a banner reading, “First and Always Protect Womanhood”.[18]

The neighbor also reported the absence that day of Taylor’s laundress, Sarah Carrier, whom the white women in Sumner called “Aunt Sarah”. Philomena Goins, Carrier’s granddaughter, told a different story about Fannie Taylor many years later. She joined Carrier at Taylor’s home as usual that morning. They watched a white man leave by the back door later in the morning before noon. She said Taylor did emerge from her home beaten, but it was well after morning.[16] Carrier’s grandson and Philomena’s brother, Arnett Goins, sometimes went with them and had seen the white man before. His name was John Bradley and he worked for the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Carrier told others in the black community what she had seen that day; the black community of Rosewood understood that Fannie Taylor had a white lover. They got into a fight that day and he beat her.[19] When Bradley left Taylor’s house, he went to Rosewood.[16]

Quickly, Levy County Sheriff Robert Elias Walker raised a posse and started an investigation. When they found that Jesse Hunter, a black prisoner, had escaped from a chain gang, they began a search to question him about Taylor’s attack. Men arrived from Cedar Key, Otter Creek, Chiefland, and Bronson to help with the search. Adding confusion to the series of events later recounted, as many as 400 men began to gather. Sheriff Walker deputized some of them, but was unable to initiate them all. Walker asked for dogs from a nearby convict camp, but one dog may have been used by a group of men acting without Walker’s authority. Dogs led a group of about 100 to 150 men to the home of Aaron Carrier, Sarah’s nephew. Aaron was taken outside, where his mother begged the men not to kill him. He was tied to a car and dragged to Sumner.[16] Sheriff Walker put Carrier in protective custody at the county seat in Bronson to remove him from the men in the posse, many of whom were drinking and acting on their own authority. Worried that the group would quickly grow further out of control, Walker also urged black employees to stay at the turpentine mills for their own safety.[20]

A group of vigilantes, who had become a mob by this time, seized Sam Carter, a local blacksmith and teamster who worked in a turpentine still. They tortured Carter into admitting having hidden the escaped chain gang prisoner. Carter led the group to the spot in the woods where he said he had taken Hunter, but the dogs were unable to pick up a scent. To the surprise of many witnesses, someone fatally shot Carter in the face.[note 2] The group hung Carter’s mutilated body from a tree as a symbol to other black men in the area.[1] Some in the mob took souvenirs of his clothes.[16] Survivors suggest that John Bradley fled to Rosewood because he knew he was in trouble and had gone to the home of Aaron Carrier, a fellow veteran and Mason. Carrier and Carter, another Mason, covered Bradley in the back of a wagon. Carter took Bradley to a nearby river, let him out of the wagon, then returned home to be met by the mob who had been led to him by dogs following Bradley’s scent.[21]

After the lynching of Sam Carter, the mob met Sylvester Carrier—Aaron’s cousin and Sarah’s son—on a road and told him to get out of town. Sylvester refused, and when they left, he suggested gathering as many people as possible for protection.[22]

[edit] Escalation
A cabin burns in Rosewood on January 4, 1923 [note 3]Despite the efforts of Sheriff Walker and mill supervisor W. H. Pillsbury to disperse them, mobs continued to gather. On the evening of January 4, a mob of armed white men went to Rosewood and surrounded the house of Sarah Carrier, which was filled with approximately 15 to 25 people seeking refuge, many of whom were children hiding upstairs under mattresses. Some of the children were in the house because they were visiting their grandmother for Christmas.[16] They were protected by Sylvester Carrier and possibly two other men, but Sylvester may have been the only one armed. He had a reputation of being proud and independent. In Rosewood, he was a formidable character, a crack shot, expert hunter, and music teacher, who was simply called “Man”. Many whites considered him arrogant and disrespectful.[1][16]

Sylvester Carrier was reported in the New York Times saying that the attack on Fannie Taylor was an “example of what negroes could do without interference”.[23] Whether he said this is debated, but a group of 20 to 30 men, inflamed by the statement, went to the Carrier house. They also believed the black community in Rosewood was hiding escaped prisoner Jesse Hunter.[1][note 4] Reports conflict about who shot first, but after two members of the mob approached the house, someone opened fire. Sarah Carrier was shot in the head. Her nine-year-old niece, Minnie Lee Langley, had witnessed Aaron Carrier taken from his house three days earlier; when Langley heard someone had been shot, she went downstairs to find her grandmother, Emma Carrier. However, Sylvester placed her in a firewood closet in front of him as he watched the front door, using the closet for cover: “He got behind me in the wood [bin], and he put the gun on my shoulder, and them crackers was still shooting and going on. He put his gun on my shoulder… told me to lean this way, and then Poly Wilkerson, he kicked the door down. When he kicked the door down, Cuz’ Syl let him have it.”[24][25]

Several shots were exchanged: the house was riddled with bullets, but the whites did not capture it. The standoff lasted long into the next morning when Sarah and Sylvester Carrier were found dead inside the house; several others were wounded, including a child who had been shot in the eye. Two white men, C. P. “Poly” Wilkerson and Henry Andrews, were killed; Wilkerson had kicked in the front door, and Andrews was behind him. At least four whites were wounded, one possibly fatally.[26][note 5] The remaining children in the Carrier house were spirited out the back door into the woods. They crossed dirt roads one at a time, then hid under brush until they had all gathered away from Rosewood.[27]

[edit] Razing RosewoodNews of the armed standoff attracted people from all over the state. Reports were carried in the St. Petersburg Independent, the Florida Times-Union, the Miami Herald, and The Miami Metropolis, in versions of competing facts and overstatement. The Miami Metropolis listed 20 blacks and four whites dead and characterized the event as a “race war”. National newspapers also put the incident on the front page. The Washington Post and St. Louis Dispatch described a band of “heavily armed Negroes” and a “negro desperado” who were involved.[28] Most of the information came from discreet messages from Sheriff Walker, mob rumors, and other embellishments to part-time reporters who wired their stories to the Associated Press. Details about the armed standoff were particularly explosive. According to historian Thomas Dye, “The idea that blacks in Rosewood had taken up arms against the white race was unthinkable in the Deep South”.[1] Black newspapers covered the events from a different angle. The Afro-American in Baltimore highlighted the acts of heroism against the onslaught of “savages”, but had their own exaggerations and distance from fact: “Two Negro women were attacked and raped between Rosewood and Sumner. The sexual lust of the brutal white mobbists satisfied, the women were strangled.”[28]

The white mob burned the black churches in Rosewood. Philomena Goins’ cousin Lee Ruth Davis heard the bells tolling in the church as the men were inside setting it on fire.[16] Even the white church in Rosewood was destroyed. Many black residents fled into the nearby swamps, some clothed only in their pajamas. Wilson Hall was nine years old at the time; he later recalled his mother waking him to flee into the swamps early in the morning when it was still dark; the lights from approaching cars could be seen for miles. The Hall family walked 15 miles (24 km) through swampland to the town of Gulf Hammock. The survivors recall that it was uncharacteristically cold for Florida, and people spent several nights in raised wooded areas called hammocks to evade the mob. Some took refuge with sympathetic white families.[1] Sam Carter’s 69-year-old widow hid for two days in the swamps, then was driven by a sympathetic white mail carrier, under bags of mail, to meet her family in Chiefland.[7]

White men began surrounding houses, pouring kerosene on and lighting them, then shooting at those who emerged. Lexie Gordon, a light-skinned 50-year-old woman who was ill with typhoid fever, had sent her children into the woods. She was killed by shotgun blast to the face when she fled from hiding underneath her home, which had been set on fire by the mob. Fannie Taylor’s brother-in-law claimed to be her killer.[1] On January 5, more whites converged on the area, forming a mob of between 200 to 300 people. Some came from out of state. Mingo Williams, who was 20 miles (32 km) away near Bronson, was collecting turpentine sap by the side of the road when a car full of whites stopped and asked his name. As was custom among many residents of Levy County, both black and white, Williams used a nickname that was more prominent than his given name; he replied to the car full of men with the name everyone used, “Lord God”, and they shot him dead.[16]

Governor Cary Hardee (center front, in white) took Sheriff Walker’s word that all was well, and went on a hunting trip.Sheriff Walker pleaded with news reporters covering the violence to send a message to the Alachua County Sheriff P. G. Ramsey to send assistance. Carloads of men came from Gainesville to assist Walker; many of them had probably participated in the Klan rally earlier in the week. W. H. Pillsbury tried desperately to keep black workers in the Sumner mill, and worked with his assistant, a man named Johnson, to dissuade the white workers from joining others using extra-legal violence. Armed guards sent by Sheriff Walker turned away blacks who emerged from the swamps and tried to go home.[29] W. H. Pillsbury’s wife secretly helped smuggle people out of the area. Several white men declined to join the mobs, including the town barber who also would not lend his gun to anyone. He said he did not want his “hands wet with blood”.[16]

Governor Cary Hardee was on standby, ready to order National Guard troops in to neutralize the situation. Despite his message to the sheriff of Alachua County, Walker informed Hardee by telegram that he did not fear “further disorder” and urged the governor not to intervene. The governor’s office monitored the situation, in part because of intense Northern interest, but Hardee would not activate the National Guard without Walker’s request. Walker insisted he could handle the situation; records show that Governor Hardee took Sheriff Walker’s word and went on a hunting trip.[30]

James Carrier, Sylvester’s brother and Sarah’s son, had previously suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed. He left the swamps and returned to Rosewood. He asked W. H. Pillsbury, the white turpentine mill supervisor, for protection; Pillsbury locked him in a house but the mob found Carrier, and tortured him to find out if he had aided Jesse Hunter, the escaped convict. After they made him dig his own grave, they fatally shot him.[16][31]

[edit] EvacuationOn January 6, white train conductors John and William Bryce managed the evacuation of some black residents to Gainesville. The brothers were independently wealthy Cedar Key residents who had an affinity for trains. They knew the people in Rosewood and had traded with them regularly.[note 6] As they passed the area, the Bryces slowed their train and blew the horn, picking up women and children. Fearing reprisals from mobs, they refused to pick up any black men.[1] Many survivors boarded the train after having been hidden by white general store owner John Wright and his wife, Mary Jo. Over the next several days, other Rosewood residents fled to Wright’s house, facilitated by Sheriff Walker, who asked Wright to transport as many residents out of town as possible.

Lee Ruth Davis, her sister, and two brothers were hidden by the Wrights while their father hid in the woods. On the morning of Poly Wilkerson’s funeral, the Wrights left the children alone to attend. Davis and her siblings crept out of the house to hide with relatives in the nearby town of Wylly, but they were turned back for being too dangerous. The children spent the day in the woods but decided to return to the Wrights’ house. After spotting men with guns on their way back, they crept back to the Wrights, who were frantic with fear.[24] Davis later described the experience: “I was laying that deep in water, that is where we sat all day long…. We got on our bellies and crawled. We tried to keep people from seeing us through the bushes…. We were trying to get back to Mr. Wright house. After we got all the way to his house, Mr. and Mrs. Wright were all the way out in the bushes hollering and calling us, and when we answered, they were so glad.”[1] Several other white residents of Sumner hid black residents of Rosewood and smuggled them out of town. Gainesville’s black community took in many of Rosewood’s refugees, waiting for them at the train station and greeting survivors as they disembarked, covered in sheets. On Sunday, January 7, a mob of 100 to 150 whites returned to burn the remaining dozen or so structures of Rosewood.[32]

[edit] Response
Levy County Courthouse in Bronson, where the governor’s grand jury met and found no one to prosecuteMany people were alarmed by the violence, and state leaders feared negative effects on the state’s tourist industry. Governor Cary Hardee appointed a special grand jury and special prosecuting attorney to investigate the outbreak in Rosewood and other incidents in Levy County. In February 1923, the all-white grand jury convened in Bronson. Over several days, they heard 25 witnesses, eight of whom were black, but found insufficient evidence to prosecute any perpetrators. The judge presiding over the case deplored the actions of the mob.[33][34]

Newspapers started moving information about Rosewood off their front pages by the end of the week. The Chicago Defender, the most influential black newspaper in the U.S., reported that 19 people in Rosewood’s “race war” had died, and a soldier named Ted Cole appeared to fight the lynch mobs, then disappeared; no confirmation of his existence after this report exists.[35] A few editorials appeared in Florida newspapers summarizing the event. The Gainesville Daily Sun justified the actions of whites involved, writing “Let it be understood now and forever that he, whether white or black, who brutally assaults an innocent and helpless woman, shall die the death of a dog.” The Tampa Tribune, in a rare comment on the excesses of whites in the area, called it “a foul and lasting blot on the people of Levy County”.[36]

Northern publications were more willing to admit the breakdown of law, but many attributed it to the backwards mindset in the South. A socialist newspaper named the New York Call remarked “how astonishingly little cultural progress has been made in some parts of the world”, while the Nashville Banner compared it to actions recently taken in Northern cities, but characterized the entire event as “deplorable”.[37] A three-day conference in Atlanta organized by the Southern Methodist Church released a statement that similarly condemned the anarchic week in Rosewood, but concluded saying, “No family and no race rises higher than womanhood. Hence, the intelligence of women must be cultivated and the purity and dignity of womanhood must be protected by the maintenance of a single standard of morals for both races.”[37]

Officially, the recorded death toll of the first week of January 1923 was six blacks and two whites. Historians, however, disagree about this number. Some survivors’ stories claim there may have been up to 27 black residents killed, and assert that newspapers did not report the total number of white deaths; Minnie Lee Langley—who was in the Carrier house siege—recalls that she stepped over many white bodies on the porch when she left the house.[1] Several eyewitnesses claim to have seen a mass grave filled with black people; one remembers a plow brought from Cedar Key that covered 26 bodies. However, by the time authorities investigated these claims, most of the witnesses were dead, or too elderly and infirm to lead them to a site to confirm the stories.[38]

Aaron Carrier was held in jail for several months in early 1923; he died in 1965. James Carrier’s widow Emma was shot in the hand and the wrist and arrived in Gainesville on a train. She never recovered, and died in 1924. Sarah Carrier’s husband Haywood did not see the events in Rosewood. He was on a hunting trip, and discovered when he came back that his wife, brother James, and son Sylvester were dead and his house was destroyed. Following the shock of learning what had happened in Rosewood, Haywood rarely spoke to anyone but himself, and sometimes wandered away from his family unclothed. His grandson, Arnett Goins, surmised grief had compromised his sanity. Haywood died a year after the massacre.[39] Jesse Hunter, the escaped convict, was never found. Many survivors fled in different directions to other cities, and a few changed their names from fear that whites would track them down. None ever returned to live in Rosewood.[34]

Fannie Taylor and her husband moved to another mill town. She was “very nervous” in her later years, until she succumbed to cancer. John Wright’s house was the only structure left standing in Rosewood. He lived in it and acted as an emissary between the county and the survivors. Almost all of their land was sold for taxes.[16] Mary Jo Wright died around 1931; John developed a problem with alcohol. He was ostracized and taunted for assisting the survivors, and rumored to keep a gun in every room of his house. He died after drinking too much one night in Cedar Key, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Sumner.[40] The sawmill in Sumner burned down in 1925, and the owners moved it to Lacoochee in Pasco County. Many of the survivors and participants arrived in Lacoochee to work in the mill there. W. H. Pillsbury was among them, but he was also taunted by former Sumner residents. No longer having any supervisory authority, he was retired early by the company. He moved to Jacksonville and died in 1926.[41]

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Posted February 24, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Uncategorized

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