Rosewood was established around 1870 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.
On the morning of January 1, 1923, Fannie Coleman Taylor, a white woman and homemaker of Sumner Florida, claimed a black man assaulted her. Although she was not seriously injured and was able to describe what happened, she allegedly remained unconscious for several hours due to the shock of the incident. No one disputed her account and no questions were asked. It was assumed she was reporting the incident accurately.
James Taylor, a foreman at Cummer & Sons saw mill and Fannie Taylor's husband, assembled a vicious mob and ordered tracking dogs. The local white community became enraged at the alleged abuse of a white woman by a black man; it was an unpardonable sin for any black man to gaze upon a white woman and he most certainly could not touch one.
James Taylor requested help from Levy County and neighboring Alachua County, where a staged Ku Klux Klan celebration was ending on the courthouse square in downtown Gainesville, Florida. A large number of KKK members had been rallying and marching in opposition of justice for black people on December 31, 1922, leading up to the January 1, 1923 Rosewood massacre.
A telegraph sent to Gainesville in regards to Fannie Taylor’s allegations provoked four to five hundred Klansmen to head to Sumner at the appeal of James Taylor. Negative commentary sent out over the airwaves created tension, fueling the already incensed mindset of the KKK. They packed their gear and headed to a town called Rosewood with a vengeance to participate in destroying the town at any cost. The posse arrived enraged, rabid, and ravenous for blood. They combed the woods behind the Taylor’s home looking for a suspect, any suspect if a black man. Suspicion soon fell on Jesse Hunter, an alleged black man who had supposedly just escaped from a convict road gang. No proof of an escape was ever produced.
It is documented that the posse confronted Sam Carter, a randomly selected black man, at his home where Carter allegedly admitted to helping Hunter escape. It is also alleged that the posse forced Carter to take them to the place where he last saw Hunter. Carter took the posse to where he supposedly parted ways with Hunter. When no trace of Hunter could be found, the posse turned into an out of control lynch mob and tortured Carter, riddled him with bullets, hanging him from a tree to be seen by the world. It was an effort to intimidate people of color.
When the posse returned to Rosewood, they found Aaron Carrier (uncle of Lizzie Jenkins – founder and president of The Real Rosewood Foundation) and angrily pulled him out of bed, roped him, tied him behind a car and dragged him to Sumner, cursing and ranting all the way. They cut him loose, stomped him, kicked him, and spat on him. One perpetrator said, "He's damn near dead, let's finish the nigger off!” Sheriff Walker yelled, "No! I'll finish the nigger off!” Instead, the sheriff put Aaron in his car and drove 55 miles to Gainesville where he begged his friend, Sheriff J. P. Ramsey, to put Carrier up in his jail and not tell anyone he was being held there. “Get a doctor for him and nurture him back to health,” Sheriff Walker instructed. He went as fast as his Model T would take him back to Sumner, only to discover the vicious mob had returned to Rosewood, nabbed the schoolteacher and transported her to Sumner. She would survive to tell of her painful ordeal.
Out of hate and rage, on day three of the massacre, the frenzied mob continued their hunt in Rosewood for any living being – killing four, pillaging, and burning the homes belonging to the black residents of that community in an attempt to cover evidence of how many were actually killed, not reportedly killed. “Until the Lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”– Zimbabwean Proverb.
Levy County Sherriff, Bob Walker, aborted the shooting of Aaron Carrier, a prominent Rosewood citizen and husband of Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier, Rosewood’s schoolteacher, working ninety-six hours straight in an effort to save the lives of innocent people and for that gesture of courage, Sheriff Elias “Bob” Walker is Rosewood’s HERO!
On February 12th, 1923 a special grand jury was empanelled 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 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. Even Aaron and Mahulda changed their name from Carrier to Carroll. View gallery for documentation.