Rosewood Massacre Survivors Win

By Ellen Spears

Vol. 16, No. 1, 1994, p. 12

Descendants of the black residents of Rosewood, Florida and survivors of the massacre that left at least eight dead and destroyed the town more than seventy years ago took their case to the state legislature in an effort to finally win compensation. At the close of the 1994 legislative session, they were victorious.

"It's a matter of justice," said Florida Senate sponsor Daryl Jones (D-Miami), "a symbol of the countless secret deaths that took place in an era that has slipped from view." The state Senate's 26-14 vote on April 8 supported a $2.1 million claim which will pay eleven survivors $150,000 each and provide other benefits, including scholarships, to descendants.

In January 1923, a white mob systematically burned down the town, claiming to be searching for a black man accused of assaulting a white woman. Terrorized survivors hid in the freezing piney woods outside the small Gulf Coast town, scattered to Tampa and Tallahassee, and left behind everything they owned. "The failure of elected white officials to take forceful actions to protect the safety and property of local black residents was part of a pattern in the state and throughout the region," a state investigative team reported to legislators. Levy County Sheriff Robert Elias Walker did not control the mob, the investigators concluded, and Governor Cary Hardee went hunting while Rosewood burned.

The approval of the measure represents the first time a state legislature has voted to compensate victims of racial violence in the U.S. Though it was difficult to secure, the settlement indicates a possible route to redress when individual perpetrators of racist violence may not be charged or successfully prosecuted.

At the capitol in Tallahassee, the ten-year-old great-granddaughter of a Rosewood victim expressed the descendants' response to the vote, saying, "We stand strong, proud and free, for we are the Rosewood family."