By DIRK LAMMERS
January 2, 2004
ROSEWOOD — it’s been 81 years since Robie Allenetta Robinson Mortin set foot here, but little is left of the town in which she grew up.
On Jan. 1, 1923, a lynch mob descended onto the predominantly black township and hanged her uncle, Samuel Carter. Mortin's father whisked the 8-year-old girl and her sister onto a train that carried many residents to safety as a mob burned Rosewood to the ground.
"We could see the flames from Chiefland," about 25 miles away, recalls Mortin, 89. "Why? Why burn down the houses? The children should have had some place to come home."
Mortin returned Thursday to gather with more than 100 people at the site of the massacre for a "peace and healing" ceremony, organized by Rosewood descendent Lizzie Jenkins.
Jenkins, president of the Archer-based Real Rosewood Foundation, says it's the first time survivors and descendants have marked an anniversary together.
"I felt it was time to come back for healing, peace, forgiveness and preservation," she says. "When we preserve Rosewood's history, we preserve America."
What's left of Rosewood is hard to find, nestled among scrub pines and palmetto off State Road 24, about 10 miles east of Cedar Key.
Just one organization — a Baptist church — uses the Rosewood name, and only a small green sign on eastbound State Road 24 acknowledges the former settlement.
At Rosewood Community Park on Thursday, pastors prayed for forgiveness and descendants lit candles and released white balloons for each of the victims.
The Real Rosewood Foundation, Inc., president and organize sought proclamations and letters that were read from Gov. Jeb Bush and other politicians, and participants sang, "We Shall Overcome."
Records say six blacks and two whites killed during the massacre, but many descendants suspect as many as 37 died in the attack.
"There were many stories told that there was a mass grave, and I believe it," Mortin says.
In 1993, the Florida Legislature approved a bill giving the survivors and descendants $2.1 million. A scholarship was created at Florida A&M University to study racial injustice.
A historical marker will be placed on the roadside later this year near the John Wright House, the only Rosewood landmark that remains. Wright was a white merchant who helped hide survivors until the sheriff, store merchant, Bryce brothers train conductors and others could arrange getting them out of town by train.
Some of the other heroes who helped protect Rosewood residents escape were white. They included Levy County Sheriff Bob Walker, who worked 96 hours straight as told to Jenkins by her mother, Theresa Brown Robinson, sister to Rosewood schoolteacher, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier, to help as many residents as he could get out of Rosewood alive.
Walker's niece, Phoebe Walker Hughes, only started learning about her uncle and Rosewood five years ago when she began researching her lineage.
"Those things were not talked about," she said.
She rented the 1997 John Singleton movie "Rosewood," and she and her daughter were horrified at the story. They tracked Jenkins down on the Internet.
Jenkins attempts to chronicle Rosewood's history began about 10 years ago. Her aunt, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier, was the town's schoolteacher and was determined to keep the stories alive and accurate.
Jenkins, through her organization, plans to build a museum and introduce a scholarship in her aunt's name. She also hopes to return to the site next year with the Rosewood anniversary recognized as a national holiday.
"It's already a holiday," she said.
Click here to see published article.