1. Florida Politics

Arnett Doctor, driving force behind Rosewood reparations, dies at 72

Arnett Doctor, a descendent of people involved in the Rosewood attacks that left six black people and two white people dead, helped win $2.1 million for Rosewood survivors.
Published Mar. 27, 2015

SPRING HILL — A lot of factors contributed to the passage of the historic Rosewood compensation law 21 years ago.

Witnesses were still alive to share their harrowing accounts of the racially motivated 1923 massacre that left at least six black and two white residents dead. High-powered lawyers got behind the bill. They produced crucial evidence of the loss of property, as well as lives.

But the biggest factor, lawyers and family members said, was the advocacy of one Rosewood descendent, Arnett Doctor, who was found dead in his Spring Hill home Monday at the age of 72 after a long illness.

"He was the one who created the narrative, who gathered the facts and said those facts entitle us to reparation," said Steve Hanlon, a law professor at St. Louis University and one of the Holland & Knight lawyers who helped push the bill.

"I called him the Moses of the family," said his cousin, Gregory Doctor of Atlanta. "God implanted in him the spirit to lead the family and fight for reparations."

"My dad is Rosewood," said Mr. Doctor's daughter, Robin Conyers of St. Petersburg.

One story he told often was of hearing about Rosewood for the first time himself, as a young boy in the Pasco County mill town of Lacoochee.

Mr. Doctor said that one Christmas Day his mother told him about the week of violence that destroyed the prosperous town in Levy County. She also said that due to fear of revenge, none of the residents had returned to the town and that all of them, Arnett included, had to promise never to speak of it.

"The Rosewood family were all witnesses to unprosecuted murders," Hanlon said. "They were terrified. They spent their whole lives terrified."

Mr. Doctor didn't just break this vow of silence — he made talking about Rosewood his life's work, starting in 1982, when he helped a reporter with the then-St. Petersburg Times expose the long-buried story.

Mr. Doctor served 12 years in the Army and later owned a cleaning company, but spent much of his time on Rosewood.

He traveled across Florida to talk to survivors, said his daughter, a traffic investigator with the St. Petersburg Police Department, "and it just amazed me how he would sit for days, talking to them over and over to get every detail."

Eventually, he took his findings to Hanlon, who enlisted the support of his colleague Martha Barnett, a veteran lobbyist and former American Bar Association president who had grown up in Lacoochee.

"Arnett was able to do what neither Steve nor I could do, which was speak from the perspective of a family member," she said.

He was also the most determined member of the team, she said, and was a quick study in legislative maneuvering.

He, too, carefully avoided the politically loaded term "reparations," Hanlon said, "though that's clearly what it was." Mr. Doctor helped sway conservatives by saying the bill was about property rights, not race.

And with the bill stalled and the "clock ticking" toward the end of the 1994 session, Mr. Doctor defied Barnett's advice to be patient and advocated the more aggressive and ultimately successful approach; the black caucus in the House of Representatives threatened a walk-out on a bill that was a priority of leadership unless the Rosewood legislation was given full consideration, Barnett said.

The $2.1 million award was small, but the significance was huge, Barnett said.

"I think what the survivors really wanted was recognition . . . for the state of Florida to say, 'We failed you and we accept responsibility and we're sorry.' "

It was the first time in the country's history that a state paid compensation for racial violence, and it was — according to everyone involved in the case and a University of Florida history professor — the last.

Money might not have been most important to the survivors, but it was to Mr. Doctor, several Rosewood descendants said. They criticized him for claiming some of the reparations and for his paid role as a consultant to the 1997 film, Rosewood.

There's no doubt that Mr. Doctor did "play both ends against the middle," said Mike D'Orso, author of a bestselling book about the massacre, Like Judgment Day. "But there's also no doubt that he was extremely passionate about Rosewood."

Proof of that, his daughter said, is the Chevrolet Silverado pickup that she retrieved this week from his home in Spring Hill. The personalized plate reads "ROSEWOOD."

Contact Dan DeWitt at Follow @ddewitttimes.


  1. [SKIP O'ROURKE   | Times]
    It’s unclear if there will be any proposed changes to this method for measuring teachers’ impact on their students’ performance, despite complaints.
  2. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, announces his education proposals in front of Franklin Middle Magnet School in Tampa last month. He says he wants to reduce "bureaucratic waste and administrative inefficiency" in Florida schools. But many educators say their budgets are already cut to the bone. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
    DeSantis said Wednesday he will call for expanding state oversight of septic tanks, developing better oversight of wastewater and stormwater systems and requiring the state to track agricultural...
  3. In this Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, file photo, a woman using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File) TONY DEJAK  |  AP
    “We’re looking at it, we’re going to be thorough in our investigation, and we will hold accountable any companies that are intentionally targeting and misleading our youth regarding vaping products,”...
  4. From left to right: Igor Fruman, Lev Parnas, President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani. Miami Herald
    David Correia, who worked with Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, is now in federal custody and will be arraigned Thursday before U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan federal cour
  5. Hurricane Michael, which made landfall in Mexico Beach last year, left wide swaths of destruction across the Florida Panhandle. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Darcy Abbott, a longtime official at the state Agency for Health Care Administration and Department of Health, will coordinate several agencies’ mental health responses to disasters and emergencies.
  6. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, from left, businessman Tom Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday in Westerville, Ohio. JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    Several statements from the candidates drew scrutiny.
  7. Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    Impeachment dominates. Bernie Sanders looks fine. Biden defends his son. And Elizabeth Warren is finally being treated like a frontrunner.
  8. This combination of Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, photos provided by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office shows booking photos of Lev Parnas, left, and Igor Fruman. The associates of Rudy Giuliani, were arrested on a four-count indictment that includes charges of conspiracy, making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and falsification of records. The men had key roles in Giuliani's efforts to launch a Ukrainian corruption investigation against Biden and his son, Hunter. (Alexandria Sheriff's Office via AP) AP
    One takeaway: there are still unanswered questions.
  9. Debris from homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael litters the ground in Mexico Beach. A year after Hurricane Michael, Bay County, Florida, is still in crisis. Thousands are homeless, medical care and housing are at a premium, and domestic violence is increasing. Michael was among the strongest hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States. GERALD HERBERT  |  AP
    Senators for the first time seriously addressed the complaints of people in the Panhandle on Tuesday.
  10. Marijuana plants grow in a greenhouse environment in this room at the Curaleaf Homestead Cultivation Facility. This environment controls the amount of natural sunlight and artificial light the plants are exposed to, as well as the temperature. EMILY MICHOT  |  Miami Herald
    An Atlanta broker is listing one license for $40 million and the other for $55 million.