The Rosewood Massacre: How One Woman's Lie Started A Race War That Destroyed A Town

In the history of the United States of America, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of racism-inspired tragic events. Due to the general white-washing of American history – and the persistence of lies about the founding of America – several of these incidents do not regularly appear in history books, nor do they receive much attention in the mainstream media; a perfect example of this is the Rosewood Massacre. What started the Rosewood Massacre was a classic combination of ignorance, dishonesty, and roiling racial hatred, but what kept it under wraps for so long was a concerted desire by many to forget the most troubling moments in America’s history.

The Rosewood Massacre occurred well into the 20th century, in January of 1923. Taking place in sleepy and rural Levy County, Florida, the massacre resulted in the deaths of untold innocent people and the complete destruction and abandonment of a previously thriving Black community. In keeping with a troubling trend that has plagued American history, there were no arrests ever made in connection with the Rosewood Massacre. The incident itself says as much about American history as the fact that you’ve probably never heard about it.

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  • Well Into The Roaring ‘20s, Florida Was Having Issues With Lynching And Other Hate Crimes
    Photo: Florida Memory Archives / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Well Into The Roaring ‘20s, Florida Was Having Issues With Lynching And Other Hate Crimes

    In the decades following the Civil War and Reconstruction, locales around the American South had ongoing issues with racial tension and violence. While many in America were enjoying the happy-go-lucky days of the Roaring ‘20s, the Sunshine State was experiencing continued issues with lynching and other race-related hate crimes. The KKK was active in the Rosewood area, and there had been another terribly similar event just weeks before the Rosewood Massacre. The Perry Race Riot in December of 1922 saw a Black man burned at the stake and several Black community buildings and homes destroyed. This tragedy set the stage for the Massacre that was to come.

  • The Town Of Rosewood Was A Thriving, Close-Knit, And Predominantly Black Community
    Photo: Florida Memory Project / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    The Town Of Rosewood Was A Thriving, Close-Knit, And Predominantly Black Community

    Rosewood was a small town with origins much like those of other small Florida towns. It got its start in 1845 thanks to the timber industry, with the name of Rosewood referring to the red color of freshly cut cedar. When the industry ran out of trees to cut down, most of the white residents left for nearby Sumner, where work could be found in several turpentine mills. The Black residents remained in Rosewood and commuted to Sumner for work, resulting in a close-knit community of successful Black Americans. Despite their segregated nature, the towns of Rosewood and Sumner got along for most of their history without any violent incidents.

  • The Claims Of An 'Aloof' Woman Named Fannie Taylor Ignited The Massacre

    The Rosewood Massacre began, as many hate crimes of that era did, with a white woman making accusations against a Black man. The woman in this case was Fannie Taylor, the wife of a millwright in Sumner. Taylor had a reputation of being “odd” and “aloof,” but nothing could have prepared neighbors for what she would do in 1923.

    On New Year’s Day, 1923, Taylor began screaming that she needed help, and that her baby was in danger. Taylor was discovered with bruises on her face, while her baby was unharmed, and Taylor claimed that a Black man had entered her home, attacked her, and robbed her. Taylor did not say that she had not been sexually assaulted, but the men she told her story to decided that must have been the case.

  • Fannie Taylor Was Likely Lying To Cover Up An Affair She Was Having

    Fannie Taylor was lying about her story, but it had nothing to do with whether she had been sexually assaulted or not. Several witnesses, including Taylor’s laundress, Sarah Carrier, saw a mysterious white man leaving the Taylor residence a while before all the shouting began. After a short time, Taylor ran out and started to scream, but no one else was seen leaving the premises. The most likely scenario seems to be that Taylor was having an affair and had a spat with her lover, resulting in her bruises, his storming off, and her desire to formulate a cover story.

  • A Chain-Gang Prisoner Just So Happened To Have Escaped At The Same Time That Fannie Was Making Her Claims

    The tension surrounding the Fannie Taylor incident was made worse by a terrible case of bad timing. Shortly before Taylor made her allegations, a Black prisoner named Jesse Hunter escaped from a chain gang that was stationed nearby. Locals, organized by a sheriff, became convinced that Hunter must be the perpetrator, and they also became convinced that the Black population of Rosewood was probably hiding him. A posse was quickly formed, and they set out to bring Hunter to justice. Jesse Hunter was never found, but that doesn't mean the posse didn't find someone to take their rage out on.

  • The First Casualty Was A Blacksmith Who Was Tortured For Information

    County Sheriff Robert Elias Walker had organized a posse to hunt down Jesse Hunter and had deputized a number of locals for the tasks, but the group soon numbered over 400 individuals, and it became impossible to keep order. The posse became an unruly mob, and they set out to find someone to enact violence upon.

    They kidnapped a local blacksmith, Sam Carter, convinced that he had helped Hunter stay hidden. Carter was obviously innocent, but he was tortured so badly that he admitted to hiding the convict and agreed to take the men into the woods where the two had supposedly parted ways. When no evidence of Hunter was found, Carter was shot in the face. In typical lynching form, his body was hung from a tree to serve as a warning.