I have made two major updates to the Virtual Rosewood Research Site (VRRP) in the past couple of months. The first update is the addition of oral history transcriptions to the VRRP Data Warehouse. The second major update involves the completion of the Virtual Rosewood online world.
Rosewood Oral Histories Online
The first update involves the addition of several oral history transcriptions from Rosewood survivors and descendants as well as witnesses to the 1923 riot which destroyed the town. The oral histories were collected by a group of historians as part of the compensation bill which made its way through the Florida state legislature in 1993 and 1994. Continue reading
This post is a copy of my upcoming piece for the 2010 Anthropology News special issue on “Anthropology and the Census”. The only differences between the published version and this one is the inclusion of references here.
I began researching the tragic history of Rosewood, Florida in the spring of 2005 as a side project. Initially, I felt the inability to conduct conventional archaeological research at the site hindered its potential to provide me with a suitable PhD research topic. This self-serving perspective gave way as I realized I could create a rich project drawing on the traditional historical methods of archaeology, new media and digital technologies, and engaged visual anthropology. Today, I refer to my work with Rosewood as engaged visual archaeology and it forms the basis of my PhD.
Practically nothing remains of the prosperous, majority-black town of Rosewood located in the fertile Great Gulf Hammock of North Florida. Once home to a bustling agricultural community which grew cotton, grain, citrus, and all manner of vegetable. By the 1920s, the neighboring town of Sumner began to eclipse Rosewood in economic importance due to a large sawmill recently opened there. Sumner was a company town where few workers owned their own property, and spatial segregation between its black and white populations was severe. These two communities had maintained relatively peaceful relations for years. Then, on New Year’s Day 1923, a white woman in Sumner fabricated a black assailant to hide her extramarital affair and that tentative peace was shattered forever.
Following the accusation, a white mob quickly headed for Rosewood and encountered the home of Sam Carter. At first, the mob interrogated Carter by hanging him from a tree by the neck, and when it seemed they might release him, a man leveled his gun at Carter’s face and New Year’s Day ended with the sound of a shotgun blast. Rumor and hatred spread quickly through rural Florida, eventually reaching the Klu Klux Klan in Gainesville, only forty miles away. By the sixth of January three other blacks had been murdered and the mob began the systematic burning of Rosewood. During this time a train came through town at four in the morning to pick up women and children, who had spent the previous couple of nights hiding in the swamps. The train took families to towns like Otter Creek, Archer, and Gainesville’s black district where descendants live to this day.
New Historical Methods for Commemorating Community
My academic interest in Rosewood seeks to combine the conventional questions of my discipline with emerging theoretical perspectives. Whereas modern historical archaeology consistently investigates issues of identity and economic position, only a handful of scholars attempt to combine such perspectives into a cohesive whole. The specific application of intersectionality analysis in historical archaeology remains a difficult task for obvious reasons. The challenge, of course, is to accurately ‘map’ these various axes of identity and inequality as lived experiences. A challenge compounded for the archaeologist.
The apparent solution requires a combination of complimentary data, but which datasets and how? Since my research with Rosewood centers on commemorating the community and not solely the tragic events of early 1923, a diachronic analysis of race, class, kinship, and gender in regards to property ownership and space requires a new methodology. I begin with geographic information systems (GIS) and historical property records. This involves re-creating historical property boundaries through time in the GIS. This time-series data gives a clear picture of property ownership and answers the following questions. Who owned what? When did they buy it? How much did they pay for it? When did they sell it? How much did they get? Were the prices fair for the day?
Property records alone rarely provide detailed information about race, kinship, and so forth. As I populate the historic property GIS with information, census records provide much of the additional information making a historic intersectionality analysis possible. While other places in America must deal with a twenty year gap in census data, the Florida state censuses of 1885 and 1895 allow the researcher to bridge this break. The addition of census data expands the questions above. Which jobs made enough money for home/property ownership? Did a Black school teacher make the same as a White school teacher? Did children inherit land or buy their own? How was kinship expressed spatially on the landscape?
This methodology therefore involves the following steps; (1) identify the appropriate historic property records, (2) translate the boundary information in the document into a GIS file, (3) identify the owner in the census, (4) add census data to the GIS record, and (5) analyze the relationships between complimentary datasets contextually (and statistically if one likes). In regards to Rosewood, these steps are repeated hundreds of times for a period beginning in 1860 and continuing to 1930. In this way, we have a diachronic dataset which traces the development and destruction of Rosewood’s community; a dataset forming the first step in creating an engaged visual archaeology of redress.
Engaging the Modern World with Anthropologically-Informed Historical Information
The self-identified descendant community of Rosewood still commemorates the events of 1923, and more importantly their relationships to each other through time. The engaged visual anthropology aspect of this project involves working with this community. I have and continue to interview survivors, who are in their nineties, as well as work with the advocate community gathered around this story. Recently, I created a 25 minute video drawing on the above for use during educational bus tours organized by descendants and advocates to the area around Rosewood. This video is the first in an eventual series combining history, anthropology, and new media. Ultimately, all of the complimentary data above will inform the final stage of the project – the complete, virtual reconstruction of Rosewood and its environs.
You can view the progress by visiting the Virtual Rosewood Research Site, which will host an interactive version of the re-created landscape. As the visitor moves from one place to another in this digital environment the voices of survivors, descendants, and kin will replace the narrator and discuss their connections to specific sites, structures, and homes encountered in the virtual environment. The aim is to produce a collaborative and literally multi-vocal interpretation of Rosewood.
I consider the website, public talks, and virtual tours as forms of truth-telling. While this project centers on one place, tracing the experiences of the community through time directly intersects with other forms of inequality existing along a deeply historical continuum of violence. This work raises public awareness of ongoing, historically-conditioned social inequalities, and provides a set of techniques transplantable to other contexts; a new methodology aiding reparations activism with persuasive data for social justice work.