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Survivors of Black Massacre Tell Their Stories as Florida Weighs Reparations

February 25, 1994

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ One by one, survivors retold for state officials Friday the story of the Rosewood massacre of 1923, when a rampaging mob of whites out to avenge a woman’s honor destroyed their hamlet.

The Legislature is weighing a proposal to pay $7 million in reparations to the massacre’s black victims and their descendants. An assistant attorney general testified against it even as he conceded, ″This is a sorry damn incident in Florida’s history.″

″That damage, that trauma is no greater than the damage or trauma to other families of any race who had been lynched or murdered,″ Assistant Attorney General Jim Peters said.

The survivors told Florida claims officers they have said little publicly until now mostly because their parents wanted to forget the painful episode, which left at least eight people dead, including two white mob members.

″If white people wanted to tear it up and burn it, they can have it,″ said 78-year-old Wilson Hall, who was about 8 when his mother and family fled the mob that burned their home.

″Anybody who knew anything about Rosewood was the people that were there and they didn’t want to talk about it,″ Wilson said.

Wilson was one of four survivors who testified at Friday’s hearing. Under the legislation, 11 survivors and 45 descendants would share more than $7 million. More beneficiaries could be added later.

Rosewood, about 40 miles southwest of Gainesville on Florida’s Gulf Coast, had a population of about 100 in 1923. Today, only road markers are left where the community once stood.

The survivors said Rosewood was a quiet place where blacks and the few whites who lived there got along peacefully.

″I don’t know what went wrong. They didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother them,″ said Minnie Lee Langley, who was 9 at the time.

The violence started New Year’s Day after a white woman, Fannie Taylor, who lived in nearby Sumner accused a black man of assaulting her.

A posse formed to track down her attacker to Rosewood, but the group soon turned into a drunken mob of several hundred that murdered blacks, burned their homes and drove them from their land in a weeklong spasm of racist fury.

Langley, 80, said she was trying to hide from a barrage of gunfire into her house when the leader of the mob called her aunt to come outside.

″But they had done killed her,″ said Langley, who lives in Jacksonville. ″They had shot through the window first and killed her.″

Langley said the adults and children inside the house escaped into a nearby swamp and hid for three days. They watched smoke from the homes being burned.

″I guess they were looking for somebody to kill,″ said 79-year-old Arnett Goins, who was 8 and hid out in woods with relatives. ″I didn’t go back to Rosewood.″

The group eventually made it to safety in Gainesville by train.

Mrs. Taylor’s alleged attacker was never arrested. Many blacks believed the man was the white lover of Mrs. Taylor and that she lied to hide an affair from her husband.

Carolyn Tucker, a psychologist at the University of Florida, testified that the survivors showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder with feelings of extreme stress and helplessness.

″If Rosewood had been a predominantly white town surrounded by 400 angry blacks, that town would have received the police protection from the state and it would have been saved,″ said Steve Hanlon, a lawyer representing the victims.

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