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Senator opposes Rosewood bill

(ran NS S editions of Tampa Bay & State)

A state senator whose district includes the former community of Rosewood said Wednesday that he opposes compensating survivors of the racial violence that wiped out the black hamlet.

"It has nothing to do with any racial issue whatsoever," said Sen. Charles Williams, D-Tallahassee. "It's strictly that I'm opposed to us establishing a precedent, which would attempt to make whole a situation that occurred 71 years ago in this state."

The Legislature is considering a claims bill to pay $7-million to survivors and descendants of the violence in January 1923 that destroyed the community near Florida's gulf coast and left at least eight people dead.

Hearings on Rosewood resume Friday when claims officers will take more testimony on the bill.

Williams said the Legislature would set a precedent that would make it liable for other financial claims stemming from racial violence.

"I don't think money can repair all of those social injustices," he said. "I think it'll open a Pandora's box to many other claims of social injustices by others other than blacks."

Williams was born in Gilchrist County in 1939, directly north of Levy County where Rosewood was located. He said in his hometown as he was growing up, two white families and a larger number of black families lived together peacefully.

"My friends until I was 8 years old were black people. I love black people," he said. "It's certainly not a racial situation at all. Some are trying to make it that. All of these people could have been white, and I would feel the same way about it."

Williams said he also opposes spending $1-million to build a memorial to commemorate the community. He said the money would be better spent on education, elderly care and other pressing state needs.

"A million dollars. You could build a huge structure. We don't need to do that," he said.

Williams would support erecting some type of historical marker at Rosewood, similar to ones found throughout the state to mark spots of historical significance. All that remains of the community today are two road signs.

Williams said he has not spoken with any victims about his feelings.

"That is a part of Florida's history. It's a very, very sad part," he said.