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Tuesday, February 18, 1997

Singleton exposes Rosewood secret

By LOUIS B. HOBSON
Calgary Sun
 
NEW YORK -- It has taken 74 years for the story of Rosewood to be told in its entirety.
 
It's a shocking story of man's inhumanity to man.
 
In the early days of 1923, the Florida town of Rosewood was burned to the ground and its inhabitants either killed or driven off into surrounding swamps.
 
Rosewood had been a prosperous black community and the envy of its neighboring white community of Sumner.
 
Fannie Taylor, a promiscuous white woman in Sumner, was beaten by one of her frequent lovers.
 
Terrified of her husband, she claimed a black man had accosted her. This was all the provocation the citizens of Sumner needed to form a crazed mob.
 
What happened during the following week is unthinkable and virtually remained a secret until 1982 when Gary Moore, a Florida reporter, stumbled on an old newspaper clipping and began researching the atrocity.
 
In 1994, the Florida state legislature acknowledged the horrors of the massacre and granted $2 million US to the descendants of the survivors.
 
Their ancestors' story has become a powerful, compelling film from 28-year-old John Singleton, the director of Boyz N the Hood and Higher Learning.
 
"I had vowed never to make a movie about the South or in the South but when I read the screenplay for Rosewood, I made an exception," admits Singleton.
 
"I grew up in Los Angeles where we had our own brand of racism but it always appeared mild to me compared to the south. I had grown up to believe the south was a bad place for blacks."
 
What Singleton discovered from working on Rosewood is that "not every white person in the south agreed with the accepted view of the time.
 
"I've come to realize that if there weren't sympathetic white people in those horrible, racial times, the black culture would likely have been annihilated."
 
For this reason, white shopkeeper John Wright, played by Jon Voight, is a central character in the film.
 
"Our research proved that Wright's life was intrinsically interwoven into this black story. To negate his role would be to tamper with the truth and it was always my intention to tell the truth in as exciting and revealing way possible."
 
Singleton's consultant for Rosewood was Arnett Doctor, whose mother was the young girl who witnessed Taylor's actual beating and therefore knew the identity of the woman's white abuser.
 
Doctor spent 30 years researching the Rosewood incident before he was approached Moore.
 
"No one ever spoke openly about Rosewood and for a good reason.
 
"Most of the survivors ended up relocating in Lacoochee, Florida.
 
"They started to rebuild their lives but to their horror, two years later the mill burned down in Sumner and a new one was built in Lacoochee. The very people who slaughtered the relatives and burned their homes once again became their neighbors."
 
Even with Rosewood scheduled to open Friday, Doctor has not given up his crusade: "I want Rosewood to be required reading in Florida schools, in all state history courses.
 
"Until that is done, I cannot rest."


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