Marker

A historic marker commemorating the Rosewood massacre.

Gov. Lawton Chiles signed the Rosewood victim compensation bill on May 4, 1994, establishing a scholarship fund for descendants of survivors and money for families.

Rosewood advocates had asked for more than $7 million; they got $2.1 million. Florida is, after all, a former Confederate state, no matter how many people from up north move here.

It’s sad to see current Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis embrace our Old South legacy rather than trying to lead us to a more inclusive New South future. Instead of demanding equal treatment under the law, he’s harking back to Jim Crow with his absurd “election police.” Of the 19 people arrested for supposed voter fraud in 2022, 15 were Black.

Instead of going after the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and the out-and-proud racists proliferating in the Sunshine State, state agencies are investigating “A Drag Queen Christmas” in Fort Lauderdale. Never mind that the show came with an “adult content” disclaimer and the requirement that anyone under 18 had to be accompanied by an adult – men dressed as women are a bigger threat to Florida than, say, automatic weapons.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent Floridians gathered last week to make sure we don’t forget the Rosewood massacre, which began in the usual way on New Year’s Day, 1923: A white woman (her name was Frances Taylor) accused a Black man of beating her. It ended in the usual way, too, with violence, lynching and destruction.

The University of Florida is hosting a weeklong commemoration of Rosewood through Jan. 14 in Gainesville, sponsored by the Holland & Knight law firm and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others.

Participants include descendants of those children who survived the killings; Tallahassee attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, who will speak about the ongoing struggle for racial justice; FSU historian Maxine Jones, who helped research a report on Rosewood for the Legislature in the 1990s; and Martha Barnett, former president of the American Bar Association and the first woman lawyer hired by Holland & Knight.

Barnett grew up in Lacoochee, a small town in Pasco County where some of the Rosewood survivors fled. Her father, the town doctor, delivered Rosewood descendants’ babies. She spent years advocating tirelessly (and finally successfully) for Rosewood reparations.

A century on, many Floridians have never even heard of Rosewood. Most of them came from somewhere else. They move here to escape history, to pretend that the burdens of America’s past don’t apply in this warm, beachy place.

But to paraphrase Toni Morrison, Rosewood is a story that must be passed on, especially now. In Florida the past isn’t dead and it isn’t gone, and this state still harbors people who hate Jews, LGBTQ+ folks and Black people.

Maybe DeSantis, who used to be a lawyer with Holland & Knight, will decide to show up at the Rosewood event. Maybe he will learn some important Florida history. Maybe he will choose to be a governor for all of us, not just angry, scared white people.

More than 10% of those arrested in connection with the attempted coup on Jan. 6, 2021, were from Florida, the highest number of any state.

Antisemitism and racism are on the rise in Florida. Hate groups grow like kudzu here. Some idiot flew a Confederate battle flag over a Jacksonville Jaguars game in December. Demonstrators from white supremacist groups stood outside Disneyworld in April and May 2022 holding banners that included swastikas, a Confederate battle flag with the lightning runes of the SS superimposed on it, and a “DeSantis Country” flag.

Many of us had hope for DeSantis when he got elected in 2018. One of his first acts as governor was to pardon the Groveland Four, four Black boys – Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin – who in 1947 were accused by a young, white, Lake County woman of raping her. They were innocent. In 2021 they were officially exonerated.

In 2020, he signed a bill mandating that Florida schools teach lessons about the Ocoee massacre of 1920. July Perry, a leading Black businessman and organizer in Orange County, was lynched, and scores of people were killed by white supremacists when they tried to exercise their right to vote.

But given DeSantis’ new dictates on how educators should approach the history of systemic racism (they’re not even supposed to utter the phrase “systemic racism”) it’s unclear how or whether Florida students will learn about Ocoee, Andrew Jackson’s murderous raids on Seminole villages he suspected of harboring runaway slaves, the 1964 Klan violence in St. Augustine or, indeed, what happened in Rosewood.