Communities Lifting the Veil of Silence
Vol. 24, No. 1-2, 2002 pp. 8-9
During Reconstruction, some African Americans in Wilmington, North Carolina were able to achieve a degree of financial and professional success. In 1897, more than 13 percent of businesses were black-owned. The political success of the Populist party helped to boost several black residents into low-level political appointments and municipal jobs, angering many whites. White Democrats rallied to reclaim political power, circulating racist propoganda and charging that black men were a sexual threat to white women. Alex Manly, African-American editor of The Daily Record in Wilmington, responded by suggesting that some of the alleged “rapes” were consensual relationships.
When the votes on November 8, 1898 were tallied, the victorious white Democrats in Wilmington adopted the “White Man’s Declaration of Independence,” resolving that black office-holding was “unnatural,” that the city administration should resign, and that Alex Manly be banished. Prominent white citizens presented the Declaration to the black community, ordering a response by the following day. The next day, a mob of angry, armed white men destroyed the Daily Record office, placed a bounty on Manly’s head, and instigated the Riot of 1898, one of the worst racially and politically motivated episodes in American history. Homes and churches were damaged, businesses were destroyed, and the Republican officials were forced to resign.
Recently, Wilmington residents are memorializing the riot with a monument honoring the achievements of African Americans and other Wilmingtonians who fought for civil rights in the 20th century. The memorial will be located in the 1898 Memorial Park, close to the spot where the riot began in 1898. A fundraising campaign is underway. For more information about the Riot and the 1898 Foundation, visit: www.spinnc.org/spinsites/1898/memorial.
On July 25, 1946, twelve to fifteen unmasked white men shot George and Mae Murray Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm, all African American, hundreds of times in broad daylight at Moore’s Ford bridge. No one was ever prosecuted for these murders. Civil rights activists and the Walton County NAACP formed the Moore’s Ford Memorial Committee in August 1997. This large biracial group of Georgians seeks to tell the story of the murders of the Dorseys and the Malcolms and to create a permanent living memorial. Several hundred Georgians searched for the missing graves of the lynching victims. Finding three of the four, they worked twenty-five days to restore two cemeteries and installed grave monuments at the gravesites. A military service on Memorial Day honored World War II veteran George Dorsey who was killed nine months after returning from the Pacific. MFMC’s efforts also led to Lamar Howard, who was beaten after testifying before an Athens grand jury on the 1946 killings, being honored with a Georgia House of Representatives resolution commemorating his courage. The group offers annual scholarships to local students who have learned of the lynching and charted a course seeking justice and racial reconciliation. To learn more about MFMC, visit: www.mooresford.net.
On November 2, 1920–Election Day–Julius Perry was dragged from his house in Ocoee by a group of whites and hanged, his body riddled with bullets. At least five other local African Americans were also either shot or burned that night and an entire black neighborhood, including at least twenty-four homes, two churches, a school, and a lodge, was burned. Why? Because African Americans had sought to vote that day.
The Republican Party had conducted extensive voter registration drives throughout the South that year. Perry and Moses Norman, another prominent local African American, had been actively recruiting blacks to register and vote. When Norman was refused at the polls, whites searched his car and found a gun. Norman was beaten, but escaped. When armed local whites, believing a “black uprising” was underway, searched for him at Perry’s home, shots were fired, and two white men were killed. Perry was then dragged from his home and killed.
The grand jury that followed exonerated all who were involved. Soon after, local whites ran the entire black population, including successful farmers, out of Ocoee, offering them token payments for their land. According to the 1920 Census, prior to the murders and rioting, blacks comprised almost 50 percent of the Ocoee population. Only two black residents were listed in the 1930 Census. Eighty years later, blacks accounted for only 2 percent of the population.
The Ocoee Project is a multiracial grassroots initiative that was formed to unearth the hidden history of devastation of Ocoee’s black community in 1920 and to
spur the Central Florida community to take steps toward accountability. The Ocoee Project is working to post exhibits in local and state museums, unveil a memorial to the victims of the Ocoee Massacre, have information about the massacre included in Florida school curricula, and have reparations awarded to the descendants of those who lost their lives and their land.
On January 1, 1923, Fannie Taylor said that a black man attacked her at home while her husband was working. The next day, a mob lynched Sam Carter, a blacksmith and outstanding citizen and resident of Rosewood, Florida. The mob continued to rage and by January 4th, they had burned cabins and houses near Rosewood and shot and killed Sara Carrier in her home. On January 6th, several children and women, who had been hiding in a well and nearby forests, were able to escape by train. The Florida Grand Jury, when it met the next month, found “insufficient evidence” to prosecute anyone for the Rosewood Riot and Massacre.
The story of this racist riot remained buried for nearly sixty years until reporter Gary Moore published the story in the St. Petersburg Times. Survivors and their family members soon after founded the Rosewood Family Reunion in Lacoochee, Florida. In 1994, the former African-American residents of Rosewood and their family members became the recipients of the first restitution payments for a racial riot. The state paid $150,000 to each survivor and the Rosewood Scholarship Fund was established.
Since that time, survivors and their family members have been working to educate others about the events of the Rosewood Massacre and their relation to racial justice in the United States. Rosewood Bus Tours has carried more than 7,300 student, military group, family, church, and community groups on an educational journey through Rosewood. With Florida Humanities Council funding, the Rosewood Traveling Exhibit was designed. And “Rosewood,” produced by Warner Brothers was released in 1997, providing a Hollywood version of the story to a broad national audience. To learn more about the Rosewood Heritage Foundation, visit: www.displaysforschools.com/rosewood.html.