The Rosewood Massacre
A single lie that destroyed a town and its inhabitants
If you watch the news or any social media outlet, you can easily find an article about sexual assault. For instance, comedian Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Gymnastics doctor and Harvey Weinstein, a former movie producer have sexually abused women. Nassar recently received a lengthy prison sentence.
If anyone sexually assaults another person, they need to be punished. Often, the assaults are proven true. But what about fictitious cases? In 2006, a North Carolina college student named Crystal Mangum falsely accused three Duke lacrosse team members of rape. Eventually, the public learned Mangum had lied. I can remember the media coverage. The court of public opinion prematurely convicted these men and wanted to send them to prison forever.
But what happens when someone lies and it leads to an entire town’s destruction and the deaths of several residents? Nearly a century ago, this happened to a small Florida town called Rosewood.
How a lie destroyed an entire town
On January 1, 1923, a neighbor heard screams coming from a 22-year-old woman named Fannie Taylor. The neighbor checked on Taylor. He found her covered in bruises. She claimed an unknown black man had assaulted her.
Taylor provided Sheriff Robert Elias Walker with details. She told Walker a black man had beaten her, but he didn’t rape her.
Fannie Taylor’s husband James was a supervisor at a local mill. Once he learned of the assault, he assembled a mob comprised of white men from neighboring counties and at least 500 Ku Klux Klansmen who were holding a rally.
The frenzied mob entered Rosewood with murder on their minds.
With no evidence or forethought, James Taylor and his mob attacked every black man they encountered. Since Rosewood’s entire population was mostly black, this meant all black men became targets for death. Sheriff Walker learned that a black man named Jesse Hunter had escaped from a chain gang. Walker and the mob believed Hunter must have assaulted Fannie Taylor.
Sarah Carrier is murdered by a mob
A brave black woman named Sarah Carrier tried to hide 25 children in her home. The mob assumed Carrier was hiding Hunter in her home. A gun battle followed. Two men from the mob died.
Unfortunately, both Sarah and her son Sylvester also died in the battle. James Carrier, Sarah’s other son, and the children fled into a nearby swamp. The mob caught Carrier and forced him to dig his own grave before murdering him.
John Wright, was a white store owner in Rosewood. He hid some residents from the mob. Also, John and William Bryce, who owned a train also hid some residents. Other residents hid wherever they could find a safe place. On January 7, the mob burned the entire town to the ground. Only John Wright’s home was spared.
Rosewood became a memory.
Florida’s governor sent down a special prosecutor to investigate the carnage. Unfortunately, nothing happened as most witnesses were white. The story remained buried until 1982 when a Florida journalist named Gary Moore uncovered the Rosewood tragedy. Rosewood was never rebuilt because residents were too frightened to return.
After the carnage, it was determined that Fannie Taylor was having an affair with a lover who had beaten her. Since she couldn’t hide the bruises from her husband, she made up a story about being assaulted. Her lie annihilated an innocent town. This true historical event is why we have a justice system and no one should be judged until after a trial.
Had the sheriff handled this differently, he may have gotten to the truth and saved Sarah Carrier, her two sons and many others. Unfortunately, the entire town went berserk, lost their humanity and killed innocent people. Tragically, no one ever faced prosecution for this horrific crime.