As the massive exodus of African Americans continued from the northern counties of Florida during the war years, Governors Park Trammell and his successor Sidney Catts essentially ignored it. Trammell, who had been the state's Attorney General prior to becoming governor, was no friend of black Floridians.
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During his Attorney Generalship, he had disregarded the lynching of 29 blacks and did the same when another 21 were lynched during his governorship. Catts had been elected on a platform that was anti-Catholic and anti-black. Once in office, he publicly labeled black residents as part of "an inferior race," and refused to criticize two lynchings in When the NAACP complained about these lynchings, Catts wrote denouncing the organization and blacks generally, declaring that "Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would.
Suddenly Catts urged blacks to stay in Florida, and called for unity and harmony among the races. Few black citizens listened to Catts or were intimidated by threats. With the end of World War I, racial concerns about the black migration and returning black veterans coincided with the resurgence of nativism. Native Americans worried that their society was being overrun by people who had values and political beliefs drastically different from theirs. Madison Grant captured their concerns in a book entitled The Passing of the Great Race , which was reissued in and and in which Grant warned that the great Nordic race was being endangered by the increasing numbers of inferior peoples, especially blacks.
The massive wave of immigration prior to World War I and the growing presence of African Americans in the nation's cities spurred nativist opposition. The second Ku Klux Klan, in particular played upon American concerns about difference by attacking both blacks and immigrants indiscriminately. Urban workers complained bitterly about low hourly wages and working conditions, and many went on strike.
The involvement of recent immigrants in the labor unrest and in the socialist movement in and led some to believe that American institutions were threatened by ethnic and racial militants. Fear became so widespread that many alleged that communist labor groups, in particular, with allies in the NAACP, were plotting to overthrow the United States. Racial hostilities in the North were further heightened by continued immigration of black southerners and the expansion of black neighborhoods into white residential areas.
In Chicago, a peaceful beach scene on July 27, , turned violent when whites stoned a teenaged black swimmer who allegedly crossed over into the white area. Racial encounters occurred throughout the city on the following day with both groups arming themselves and attacking one another. By the second day, two armed camps had formed and whites assaulted the black residential area on the south side of the city. For thirteen days, Chicago was literally without law and order as the violence went back and forth.
Over 38 people were killed, another wounded, and 1, people lost their homes in the nation's worst race riot. Louis, Omaha, and several other northern communities left the dreams and aspirations of black citizens shattered. As events in Chicago and East St. Louis made clear, black citizens had changed their attitude about white violence and intimidation. No longer content to sit quietly by while mobs stormed their communities and destroyed their property, blacks began to defend themselves against the mounting violence.
Claude McKay paid tribute to this militant "New Negro" in a poem, If We Must Die , written during the epidemic of race riots that were sweeping the country in If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back! Encouraged by McKay's poem and by the urging of the NAACP and other black leaders, blacks now appeared in public with rifles at their sides. They also volunteered to protect black prisoners whose lives were threatened by a white mob.
In Tulsa a band of armed blacks arrived at the jail to offer their assistance to police officers who were outmanned and outgunned in trying to protect black prisoners from a hostile white crowd. In other southern communities, black residents increasingly carried weapons to protect themselves against the rising tide of lynching. The notion of an armed black population in their midst sent shivers through the white community and contributed to a paranoia that fed racial fears and hostility.
A day seldom went by during the period from to in which an incident of this kind was not reported in headlines on the front pages. Violent retribution was the accepted manner of response in the South, in particular, but also in the North for crimes against white women. Lynchings steadily escalated from 38 in to 58 in During the period from to , lynch mobs took the lives of persons, of whom were African American.
In Florida, 47 black citizens were lynched during the same period. It was open season on African Americans, with minute violations of southern racial codes often sufficient to warrant execution. So violent did the communities become that public notices were placed in newspapers inviting people to come and watch the burning of a live Negro.
In addition to the 47 blacks who died by lynching, the Klan attacked the black community of Ocoee, Florida, in the western part of Orange County, in November and destroyed several homes when two local black citizens--Mose Norman and July Perry attempted to vote. Approximately six black residents and two whites were killed in the violence, and twenty-five black homes, two churches, and a lodge were destroyed 16 At Perry, in December , one month before the Rosewood incident, a white school teacher was murdered by an escaped convict.
The man and an alleged accomplice were quickly captured by the sheriff and placed in the Perry jail. Local whites, joined by men from as far away as Georgia and South Carolina, took the two black men from the Sheriff and his deputies and badly beat Charlie Wright, the fugitive convict, hoping to extract a confession and to determine if others was involved.
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Wright, however, refused to indict any one else in the crime. He was subsequently burned at the stake, and two other black men, who were suspected of being involved in the teacher's murder, were shot and hanged, although they were never implicated in the crime. Following the murders, the white mob turned against the entire black community and burned their church, masonic lodge, amusement hall, and black school.
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Several homes were also torched. The day after events in Perry concluded, the Sun reported that two blacks killed a white farmer at Jacobs, Florida, near Marianna. Whites lived in great fear, apparently persuaded that blacks were bent on randomly killing whites. Black residents of the area seemed to understand that they were sitting on a tinder box that might well explode again at any moment. In less than a month the black community of Rosewood felt the iron hand of the white mob.
Lynching had become so common in the United States, especially in the South, that in Representative L. Dyer of Missouri introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to make lynching a federal crime. Dyer acted out of conscience but also at the strong behest of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The bill passed the House, but Southerners in the Senate organized a filibuster that prevented a vote, resulting in the measure's failure and leaving the states to deal with the lynching problem. Although the number of lynchings had declined from sixty-four in to fifty-seven in , the record was not a source of pride. In the year just ended, fifty-one of the victims were blacks and six were whites. Texas led the nation with eighteen. Yet its citizens would be victims of racial violence in and several would be murdered.
In the first week of January, Rosewood was the center of what became known variously as a riot, a massacre, and a race war.
A small hamlet of twenty-five or thirty families in Levy County, Rosewood was largely populated by blacks. Elsie Collins Campbell, a white woman of Cedar Key, once lived at Rosewood, and was about three years old at the time of the disturbance.
She remembered the village as one of green forests. Population estimates of the settlement nestled along the Seaboard Air Line Railroad vary, but none of them place it as being large. The Rosewood voting precinct in had African Americans.
Rosewood is located nine miles east of Cedar Key in western Levy County which was established March 10, What became the village of Rosewood--section 29, township 14 south: range 24 east--was first surveyed in By seven homesteads were strung out along a dirt trail leading to Cedar Key and the Gulf of Mexico. Rosewood took its name from the abundant red cedar that grew in the area. By the market value of cedar and the commercial production of oranges, as well as vegetable farming and limited cotton cultivation, justified a railroad station and small depot at Rosewood.
The cedar was cut in the Rosewood vicinity, shipped by rail to Cedar Key on the Seaboard Airline Railway, which had replaced the Florida Railroad, and processed there at two large international pencil mills. The finished timber was then sent by boats to New York factories and fashioned into lead pencils.
Prosperity meant the establishment of a post office and a voting precinct in Black and white families moved in, and although the hamlet became a small village, Rosewood was never incorporated. The county opened a school for whites, and soon a privately owned hotel for whites began registering guests.
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Whites established a Methodist church in , and blacks followed in with their own African Methodist Episcopal church. Pleasant Hill, a second AME church, was founded in By the red cedar had been cut out, forcing the closing of the pencil mills at Cedar Key. The community had a black majority by , as white families moved out, leasing or selling their land to blacks. The post office and school closed, relocating to the site of a new cypress mill that opened in Sumner, a village three miles west of Rosewood.
But Rosewood survived. Some of its male residents obtained work at the large saw mill in Sumner; a number of Rosewood's black women worked at Sumner as part-time domestics for white families. Some men worked at a turpentine still located at Wylly, a small settlement one mile to the east. Other Rosewood blacks worked for the black-owned M. The company prospered by distilling turpentine and rosin obtained from the large tracts of pine trees growing nearby. Housing for some laborers was in Rosewood's "Goins Quarters," and at its peak the Goins brothers' operation owned or leased several thousand acres of land.
Other African Americans made their living by small scale farming and by trapping in the vast Gulf Hammock that surrounded the area.
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