Rosewood: History Buried, Then Remembered

Cathy Salustri


Rosewood: History Buried, Then Remembered

Last month we featured Cedar Key. On the way to Cedar Key, you will see a sign for Rosewood. This is the story of the ghost town. 

You won’t find Rosewood listed on any map of “places to see in Florida.” In fact, most folks in the area would prefer we all forget about it or, at the very least, never come looking for what remains of the town. 

 Rosewood doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in any real sense. A sign, a marker, and one hosue are all that remain. The church, the mill, the homes of this quiet black community? Gone, burned to the ground by angry white men who had nothing but one wildy unsubstantiated allegation about one man.

Those white men didn’t just punish one man for a sin he, as all evidence suggests, didn’t commit.

They exterminated, through gunshots, fire, and fear, an entire town.

 

WHAT: On New Year’s Day 1923, a white woman in Sumter said a black man in neighboring Rosewood assaulted her. Although her story may not have stood up to any sort of scrutiny, locals accepted her story without question and mounted a posse, including a reported four to five hundred Klansmen rallying in Gainseville, to Rosewood. 

Once there, they systematically destroyed the town. For several days, white men tortured, shot and killed Rosewood residents. Black children and families hid in the swamp, hoping to escape the wrath of the white men. White men torched homes and the town church. The Sheriff tried, with limited success, to protect Rosewood residents. Nevertheless, the white men wholly and completely obliterated the town. They didn’t kill all the of the all-black town: when faced with the threat of torture, death, and fire, most residents fled in fear. That fear followed them.

On February 11, 1923, a grand jury investigated. They found insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone in the slayings or fire.

Rosewood essentially disappeared. Authorities later seized land for back taxes.

 

WHY: Why on earth would anyone seek out any shred of a memory of something so awful? There is truly nothing to see but the marker and, through the trees, a home that sheltered some of the townsfolk during the massacre. Don’t go for the tourism value; go because we buried this atrocity. No one spoke of the incident until 1994, when the Florida Legislature agreed to compensate survivors. In the interim, many survivors lived in fear; at least one woman lived under an assumed name until she died, fearing that the posse (or its descendants) would come for her.

 

WHO: The Real Rosewood Foundation “was created in 2002 to develop a Rosewood family connection, expand the search, authenticate history, locate lost survivors/descendants, track down white descendants inviting cultural participation to preserve Rosewood history.” The Foundation holds annual “family reunions” and maintains a web site, on which you can read a more complete account of the 1923 events. 


WHEN: There’s nothing left to see but roads and one house with prominently displayed “no trespassing” signs. You can see those things anytime the sun shines.

 

WHERE: West of US 19 on State Road 24, on the south side of the road, just east of Cedar Key. All you will find is the marker pictured and a green highway sign.

 

More Info: Learn more at RosewoodFlorida.com and DisplaysForSchools.com/rosewood

 

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@TheGabber.com.