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Children inherited a legacy of fear

Fear followed the terrified black survivors of the Rosewood massacre for decades, long after many of them had moved to Lacoochee, a small community in northeast Pasco County.

Some descendants of the Rosewood survivors are still fearful today, says Arnett Doctor, who has led efforts to collect damages for survivors and their families.

Doctor was among witnesses testifying Friday before special masters who are trying to determine if survivors and their descendants can recover up to $7-million in compensation. The special masters will recommend action to the Legislature, which can accept or ignore it like any other bill.

The black families in Rosewood, a tiny crossroads community near Cedar Key in Levy County, lost everything after a white mob burned out the town in 1923. The survivors fled and never returned. Many moved to Lacoochee in the decade that followed, according to Doctor.

The attack on Rosewood occurred after a mob of more than 300 white people descended on the town in search of a black man who had supposedly raped a white woman in a nearby community.

Doctor, the son of a Rosewood survivor, was born and reared in Lacoochee and now lives in Tampa. He said his mother first told him about events at Rosewood in the late 1940s when he was about 12, the same age as his mother when she and other children fled into the swamps to escape the mob.

As the years went by, family members retold the story at Christmas gatherings.

The Rosewood described by survivors was one where blacks owned their own homes and land and ran small businesses that provided for the 20 to 30 families living there.

The community had three churches, a school, a Masonic hall, a baseball team, a train depot and a store or two.

Doctor said his mother and other relatives wanted his generation to know about the sort of prosperity they had prior to the attack.

It was also a warning to future generations that might find themselves in conflict with white neighbors.

For years, some family members, including Doctor, wanted to go public with the story to let people know what happened.

"My mother said, "Absolutely not,' " Doctor said. "There was fear that there were descendants of some of the members of the mob that ravaged Rosewood that were still alive and that there would be repercussions."

Many of the white people who once lived near Rosewood also had moved to Lacoochee, following employment at a Cummer Company mill that operated in Pasco County after another company mill was destroyed by fire in the late 1920s.

"Lacoochee was a town very much like Rosewood," Doctor testified. "I grew up adhering to my mother's warning not to trust any whites."

Only his service in the Army taught him that some white people could be trusted, Doctor said.

A cousin, Pasco Goins, made a trip back to Levy County in the late 1960s or early 1970s in an attempt to find out what had happened to the family's land.

"He was forced out of the courthouse in Bronson at gunpoint," Doctor said. "They threatened to kill him if he came back. Pasco was not easily intimidated, but he was very shaken by the experience."

The Goins family once owned and leased more than 3,000 acres in the area.

All of the land has since been acquired by others, and members of a legislative study team assigned to investigate the massacre have been refused access to the land where some survivors say there is a mass grave.

It was years before family members gathered up enough courage to tell the story in public.

Only after the St. Petersburg Times published an account of the massacre in 1982 and 60 Minutes broadcast an account of it in 1983, did the Rosewood families begin to meet and talk about the events that caused their parents and grandparents to flee the town in 1923.

Beginning in 1984, the families began meeting once a year and even took a bus tour to Rosewood one year. At least one member of the family was still too frightened to get off the bus.

"I have cousins my age who are fearful now about what could happen as a result of this hearing," Doctor said. "Some wouldn't meet with my family because they feared someone would blow up the building we were in."

Today, Doctor said he and other survivors are telling their stories in an effort to convince their own children, the third generation after the massacre, that the system can work.

Doctor said he decided to do something more than talk after hearing about the money paid to the descendants of Japanese families who were interned in California during World War II.

His mother, Philomenia Doctor, had accompanied her grandmother, Sarah Robinson Carrier, to the Taylor family home in nearby Sumner on the day the rape was reported in 1923. Doctor said his mother and great-grandmother saw a white man who had been Fannie Taylor's secret lover attack her and believed she reported an attack by a black man to hide the secret from her husband.

After the attack was reported, Doctor said his mother and great-grandmother returned to the family home at Rosewood where some family members owned land and operated a turpentine still and other businesses. They told relatives about the incident. Fearful of white anger that might be directed at the black families in the community, some family members gathered at the Carrier house in the days that followed.

Three days after the alleged rape, a mob of angry white men attacked the Carrier house. Two white men and Sarah Carrier were killed. Others inside the house were killed, wounded or fled into the woods.

Sarah's husband, Sylvester Carrier, hid and was smuggled out of Rosewood in a coffin a few days later as some of the bodies were removed.

Eva Jenkins, an Orlando resident who was born at Rosewood in 1909 but moved to Gainesville before the massacre, also testified. She remembered visiting the prosperous community in the summer of 1918 and recalls a day in 1923 when the Rosewood survivors gathered on her aunt's porch in Gainesville after fleeing the area.

"I came home from school one day, and the front porch was full of women from Rosewood," Mrs. Jenkins said. "My aunt said they'd run from the massacre in Rosewood."