Contextualizing the 1923 Violence at Rosewood
Rosewood did not exist in a vacuum, and its connection to local, regional, and national markets and media greatly affected the community. In order to fully understand the importance of Rosewood we need to develop an awareness of its historical context. In relation to race riots and the lynchings that often initiated them, a number of useful resources exist. One such resource is Stewart Tolnay and E. M. Beck’s notable work “A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930” which examines such events in relation to broader economic developments.
The period between 1915-1923 represents a particularly volatile moment in US history. WWI had just ended. Various forms of media stereotyped African Americans as deviant and dangerous (e.g., Birth of a Nation) and the eugenics movement reached its apex in 1924 when its leaders helped re-write US immigration policy. The country increasingly came under the influence of irrational, labor-hostile forms of global Capitalism which continue today. Understanding how these changing trends interacted at various scales provides a deeper analytical framework for understanding the riot in Rosewood. Ultimately, it was an intersection of visible and intangible forms of violence which drove such activities and fully understanding these complex events requires new explanations regarding racial violence.
Social scientists often view violence in terms of intersubjective, symbolic, and structural forms. The intersubjective form refers to face-to-face violence and is the most recognizable. Symbolic violence refers to cultural and social attitudes which contribute to negative stereotypes. Structural violence refers to the inequality which continues to disenfranchise minority groups in the present. These three types of violence were in flux during the early 20th century, when symbolic and structural forms supplanted intersubjective forms as the dominate methods for halting minority advancement in America. A painful practice which continues through mostly intangible means today.
The Rosewood Heritage Project is dedicated to investigating the intersection of various forms of violence in the past and present through a mixed methods approach to studying history. This project also seeks to develop a sensitive approach inviting descendants and community members to come together in the interest of calmly discussing issues of reconciliation in the past and present.