The Destruction of Rosewood
PCHS Speaker Event 2/19/22 – “The Destruction Of Rosewood” with Dr. Vincent Adejumo
by Kathy M. Reichard-Ellavsky, PC Historical Vice-President
Nearly 100 years ago the town of Rosewood, FL near present day Cedar Key was destroyed during a racially motivated attack. For sixty years the incident was rarely discussed until St. Petersburg Times reporter Gary Moore uncovered rumors of mob violence in the rural community while researching a travel story in 1982.
Details of the horrific incident and the context during which it occurred were shared by Dr. Vincent Adejumo, professor of African-American Studies at the University of Florida, at a Florida Humanities Speaker Event hosted by the Palm Coast Historical Society on February 19, 2022. “History can sometimes make us uncomfortable,” noted PCHS President Dr. Elaine Studnicki,” but it must be shared.”
Included in the presentation was an excerpt from a “60 Minutes” segment hosted by journalist Ed Bradley in 1983. His report included interviews with survivors of the attack which had largely remained a secret for decades. Minnie Lee Langley was 8 years old at the time of the massacre and recalled running into the woods in the middle of the night when she heard shots being fired and smelled homes being burned.
The incident began when Fanny Taylor, a white woman living in the neighboring town of Sumner, claimed she had been raped by a black man. A mob of nearly 1500 white men believed to have ties to the Ku Klux Klan descended on the 200 residents of the predominantly black town of Rosewood in search of the suspect. Official accounts state that during the rampage at least eight people were killed, two white and six black, although the survivors believe that well over 150 people were murdered and buried in mass graves.
Every building in town was burned with the exception of the home of John Wright, a white store owner. He sheltered several black residents and contacted the railroad for help exclaiming, “The town is on fire.” Days later the train made a special stop near the depot to evacuate the survivors. They never returned.
When news of the massacre started to resurface the survivor’s demanded restitution as well as an investigation into the matter. Property owners had never been compensated for their losses. In addition, an all-white Grand Jury in 1923 had found no evidence of a crime despite the incident having been widely covered by local newspapers at the time.
In 1994, following a contentious and politicized debate, Governor Lawton Chiles signed a bill awarding $2 million dollars to the survivors to cover property damage and to establish a scholarship fund for the descendants.
Professor Adejumo fielded questions following the lecture. They ranged from inquiries on the status of preservation efforts to save the Wright house to clarification on the definition of Critical Race Theory (CRT) which has been widely reported in the media. Dr. Adejumo noted that CRT is taught in law school and it is not part of the public-school curriculum. It’s not meant to be taught in public schools. The media has inaccurately defined CRT creating much confusion and unnecessary division among people.
Comments from the audience included the need to increase educational opportunities in the community outside of traditional classrooms for both children and adults to better understand our true history. That is one of the purposes behind the PCHS Speaker Series as well as programs offered by the African American Cultural Society, the University Women/Flagler, and others.
The Palm Coast Historical Society’s next Speaker Event features Dr. Andrew Frank from Florida State University. His lecture is entitled “Making Chief Osceola.”
Saturday, March 19 @ 10 am at the Palm Coast Community Center
“Museum Monday” is a new PCHS series concentrating on local Palm Coast history. The upcoming event features former ITT employee and Exit Realty Broker Ric Giumenta.
Monday, March 14 @ 4 pm at the PC Historical Society Museum in Holland Park.
For more information go to www.palmcoasthistory.org or follow us on Facebook.