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Survivors, scholars discuss Rosewood

Ernest Parham was 18 when he saw a white mob attack its first victim in Rosewood.

He was 79 before he spoke about it.

Now Parham speaks regularly at discussions called Rosewood Forums: panels that bring together scholars, witnesses, survivors and their descendants to talk about what happened in the small Levy County town on Jan. 1, 1923, when a mob set out to find a supposed rapist.

About 200 people attended one of those panels Saturday in Homosassa, near Crystal River.

The Florida Gathering, sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council, was intended to spark discussion about the state's cultural and historical legacy.

As a young man, Parham watched as the mob killed Sam Carter, the black man accused of harboring the alleged rapist from nearby Sumner. Before a week of attacks was over, eight people _ six black and two white _ were dead.

The rest of Rosewood's residents fled their homes.

Parham didn't speak about what happened there until 1984, when his daughter Margaret Gandy asked questions after seeing the town's story on 60 Minutes.

Now 92, Parham speaks in a whisper and Gandy tells much of the tale for him.

"If you ask him why he didn't tell someone, it's "No one ever asked,' " she said. "It's just not something he talked about."

Rosewood's destruction, once repressed by the families who lived through it, has recently been recounted in a book, legislative hearings and a movie now in release. For the panelists, Rosewood represents an era that must not be forgotten.

"We are a democratic society, a society that aspired for equality for all and didn't achieve it for much of our history," said David Colburn, a University of Florida history professor who helped the state investigate Rosewood before the Legislature agreed to compensate victims and their families. "We need to know that about ourselves," he said.

The trauma of Rosewood followed families to where they fled: Gainesville; Valdosta, Ga.; Tampa and St. Petersburg. Names were changed and children were told not to speak of the fires and killings.

"Most of them would not discuss Rosewood other than behind closed doors or with family," said Sherry DuPree, a Rosewood historian and a reference librarian at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville.

"I feel with the movie we're going to make more information available so they can learn about it, and hopefully it will be a healing process," DuPree said.

_ Times staff writer Kelly Ryan contributed to this report.