NEW YORK — Arnett Doctor was only three years old when his mother, Philomena, first told him about the Rosewood tragedy. In the winter of 1923, the Florida town was burned to the ground and many of its black citizens hanged and shot by white mobs. Eleven-year-old Philomena, after a flight across the swamps and a rescue by train, was one of the few who escaped.
"She told me the story over my father's objections," says Mr. Doctor, now a Florida businessman who served as executive consultant for John Singleton's dramatic movie of the massacre, "Rosewood." Doctor presently lives in Spring Hill, a two-hour drive from the Rosewood site.
"Until recently, most of the Rosewood survivors had remained silent about it. For many years, they had an intense fear that if they discussed what happened, there would be reprisals. You have to understand that when the massacre took place, many law-enforcement officials, including the state's governor, failed to do anything about it," he says.
"Recently, the state of Florida made reparations of over $2 million to the living survivors, but that made it worse for some.... A few have withdrawn from their families and now live incognito."
The survivors and their descendants have kept track of one another through organizations like the Rosewood Family Reunion, formed in 1984, which hosts annual reunions. Doctor himself has formed the Rosewood Justice Center, which is currently spearheading the building of the Rosewood Memorial on the now-deserted town site.
"The story of Rosewood is not past history," says Doctor. "It's a story that continues today. The headlines you read about church burnings, killings, abuse are the legacy of Rosewood."