The Other U.S. Race Massacres History Didn’t Tell You About: Part III Rosewood
The 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma “Black Wall Street” Massacre remains the most popular example of what White mob racism was and still is capable of, but it wasn’t the only massacre which took place in predominantly Black regions.
This is Part III of a three-part series which concludes the weekly mini-series.
This article is a summarized story of the events which occurred between January 1st - January 5th 1923
The name rosewood references the reddish color of cut cedar wood. The self-sufficient town with a whistle stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway initially consisted of both White and Black settlers in 1847.
There were two pencil mills; several turpentine mills in the surrounding areas; a sawmill three miles away in Sumner; and citrus and cottons farming as well.
When the pencil mills closed in 1890 — mostly all of its White inhabitants migrated to Sumner.
The two towns, now segregated, were still peaceable.
As the 1900s approached, more and more politicians and businesses began to find ways to discriminate against African-Americans. Apart from the KKK, lynchings, voter discrimination and unfair laws governing the behavior of Black people (i.e. Black Codes) — race riots in Central Florida were actually commonplace since law enforcement were either uncaring or the facilitators.
The Perry race riot, for example, happened just weeks before the Rosewood massacre.
If you’ve ever heard of Whites collecting “souvenirs” i.e. body parts and clothing after an African-American was burned at the stake in a lynching — the Perry race riot was one such extremely shocking and twisted event.
So although Sumner and Rosewood had been amicable — racial tensions would always seep into even the most of quiet of towns.
Frances “Fannie” Taylor’s Version of Events
Frances “Fannie” Taylor was a White woman married to a White man named James, a 30-year-old millwright employed by Cummer & Sons in Sumner.
Working at the mill required James to leave during the hours of the early morning while it was still dark.
On January 1 1923, Taylor’s neighbor reported she heard a scream. She recalled it was still dark as she grabbed her revolver and scrambled to get to Taylor’s residence.
She discovered Taylor on the floor with bruises.
Taylor claimed she was assaulted by a Black man and pleaded for the neighbor to check on her baby.
The neighbor found the baby, but there was no sign of the perpetrator.
The neighbor also said Taylor’s laundress, Sarah Carrier, wasn’t present at the time. So no witnesses, other than Taylor, were present.
It was reported that Taylor was only beaten and was not raped as a rumor had suggested.
But a brutal campaign was coming Rosewood’s way now that Whites in Sumner had picked up on that rumor. Since the town was virtually Whites-only — their only conclusion was that the assailant had to have come from Rosewood.
The Ku Klux Klan held a rally just the day prior in Gainesville and burned a cross as they stood under a banner which read, “First and Always Protect Womanhood”.
So news of a Black man beating and raping a White women wasn’t going to stand.
What Actually Happened According To Philomena Goins
Some years after the events of Rosewood — Carrier’s granddaughter Philomena Goins told a more plausible version of what occurred that day.
Goins asserted her and her grandmother were actually present at Taylor’s home.
She’d begun the day with her grandmother as usual, but they did see a White man leave Taylor’s home. This was before noon — well after sunrise which again contradicted Taylor and her neighbors timing of the assault.
And while Taylor did in fact emerge with bruises that day, Groins said it was well after morning.
Arnett Goins, Carrier’s grandson and Philomena’s brother sometimes went with them to Taylor’s house and corroborated seeing a White man who he recognized as John Bradley, a worker for the Seaboard Air Line Railway.
So Bradley was most likely the assailant that day, but Taylor, for whatever reason was unwilling to turn him into police. Taylor didn’t want her husband finding out about her affair — so she concocted the story with a neighbor who would back up her claims.
Racist Mob Justice
Though Philomena Goins discussed what she’d seen with Black residents — it’s highly probable that it wouldn’t have mattered if she went to the police.
Levy County Sheriff Robert Elias Walker recruited a posse of White men from Otter Creek, Cedar Key, Chiefland, and Bronson. Some men were even deputized. The mob launched an “investigation” which was them basically looking for someone Black to blame.
And they found that in one Jesse Hunter, a prisoner and chain gang escapee. And so, they set out to find him in an attempt to get information about the attack.
Some of the events differed when people recounted what occurred, but it’s known Walker’s posse had formed a search group for Hunter by using dogs.
Survivors said they say they saw John Bradley return to Rosewood and was now fearful of being discovered by the mob. He went to to the home of Sarah Carriers nephew, Aaron Carrier since they were both veterans and Masons. Another Mason, a local blacksmith and teamster working at turpentine still, Sam Carter, and Aaron Carrier, hid Bradley in the back of a wagon and carried him to a river.
Unfortunately, one of the dog’s had reached Aaron Carrier after picking up Bradley’s scent. His mother tried clearing his name but her pleas fell on deaf ears. The men tied up Carrier to a car which dragged him to Sumner.
Walker put Carrier in protective custody at the county seat in Bronson to remove him from the mob of men who’d grown more hostile. Some had been drinking and had established their own rules.
Walker urged that Black employees of the turpentine stills stay put for their safety.
The mob, now feeling that they were at a dead end and that Hunter would escape, forcibly picked up Carter who was tortured and forced to admit he was hiding Hunter.
He gave a false confession and told them Hunter was hiding out in the woods.
When the dogs were unable to pick up a scent, according to the witnesses — one of the men fatally shot Carter in the face. They hung his body from a tree to warn other Blacks. Much like the Perry riots, Whites took some of his clothes for souvenirs.
After Sam Carter was lynched, the mob came across Sylvester Carrier, Aaron’s cousin and Sarah’s son. They warned Sylvester to get out of town, but Carrier refused and they informed him to gather as many people as possible for protection.
More Destruction And Chaos Ensues
By the third day, things were only getting worse despite efforts from mill supervisor W. H. Pillsbury and Sheriff Walker.
The men tried getting the mob to disperse but more White men joined.
They marched to Sarah Carrier’s house which was being guarded by Sylvester Carrier who was considered to be a formidable force to recon with due to his expertise in crack shot hunting.
The situation only escalated further when the New York Times spun a story about Sylvester Carrier allegedly saying what happened to Fannie Taylor in Rosewood was an “example of what negroes could do without interference”.
Although Sylvester Carrier was known to be arrogant — it’s disputed that he ever uttered those words. And this wasn’t the first time a publication would be printed to frame African-American’s negatively solely based on rumors and fabricated stories.
The quote, however, drove the mob into an a rage. They also still believed Rosewood was hiding Jesse Hunter at the time.
A standoff would ensue after the mob came to the Carrier’s home. After a shootout which resulted in a child shot in the eye, others wounded, and Sylvester and Sarah dead — the survivors helped the children who’d been visiting for Christmas through the woods and across dirt roads.
News embellished the story which led to more killings
The Washington Post and St. Louis Dispatch and several other news outlets greatly exaggerated the story. The two latter news described Rosewood to be filled with “heavily armed Negroes” and a “negro desperado” as being involved.
These stories cane from discreet messages from Sheriff Walker and rumors from the mob and witnesses.
More White men came in and they began raiding and burning down Rosewood and killed several Black people.
Sheriff Walker insisted he’d be able to get the situation under control and declined intervention from the National Guard which historians believed to be a costly mistake as the mob of men were still razing Rosewood.
They went as far too torture Sarah’s son and Sylvester’s brother, James Carrier, who was partially paralyzed after previously suffering a stroke. They were still after Jesse Hunter and believed Carrier to have information on where he was hiding.
They made Carrier dig his own grave and fatally shot him.
Efforts to hide and evacuate African-Americans
Two train conductors John and William Bryce initially helped evacuate some Black residents to Gainesville with their trains, but they feared retaliation from the mob — so they began declining Black men.
General store owner John Wright and his wife, Mary Jo hid the Black survivors from the Whites. Some Rosewood residents fled to Wright’s house for protection until they could be transported out of town.
If you read how the events transpired in the two other race massacres covered it should come as mo surprise that no one was ever prosecuted for the evens that happened in Rosewood.
Aside from some public awareness on day time shows and restitution for the survivors and descendants of the family, some of who barely got $100 when the $1.5 million awarded was split up in the early 90s — the story remained largely obscure.
Ambient Reads hopes this makes its way into the public discourse when discussing race, reparations, and the difficulties of healing from traumatic events when it wasn’t that long ago Black families experienced violence, the loss of loved ones, an upheaval of their lives and livelihoods, and racism which extends beyond just the past.
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The Other U.S. Race Massacres History Didn't Tell You About: Part I
This is Part I of a three-part series which will be released every Monday until January 4th 2021. The story begins…