Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Rosewood" with Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Jon Voight and Esther Rolle

This is a savage and raw movie that will leave you disgraced at the things, that we, as human beings, are capable of doing to one another. This is a true story, albeit slightly fictionalized, which takes place on New Years Day 1923 and turns into a 5 day orgy of violence that becomes the systematic destruction of an entire town of African-Americans, many of whom were Veterans of the First World War.

Rosewood, Florida in 1922 was an idyllic place for the African-Americans who lived there. Settled in 1845 by both blacks and whites, the town took it's name from the rosewood coloring of the cedar trees in the area. Over the ensuing decades, and after the Civil War, Rosewood became a mostly "colored" town, located outside of Gainesville. Florida had Jim Crow laws in force, to be sure, but the town of Rosewood consisted almost entirely of African-Americans, who owned stores, had homes, sent their children to church and school, in short they were people very much like their white neighbors in the next town.

The whole story unfolds as a married white woman, Fannie Taylor, is beaten by her lover, John Bradley, within earshot of her "colored" maid. To cover up her infidelity, Mrs. Taylor ran from her home, screaming that she had been attacked by a "negro." The word spread quickly, and the white citizens of the County began to organize into vigilante groups, all intent on revenge.

At this point Sheriff Walker of Levy County is informed that a black "chain gang" prisoner named Jesse Hunter had escaped the day before. He quickly organized a posse to look for him. He also urged all of the local "coloreds" to stay at home, or at work in the turpentine mills for their own safety.

Sam Carter, the local blacksmith was seized after it was said that he had helped the escapee find shelter in the woods outside of town. When he was asked to reveal the location to the mob he was unable to do so. They shot him in the face before hanging his mutilated body to a tree, presumably as a warning to others not to impede the vigilantes.

At the same time that all of this was happening, a white man named John Bradley fled to the home of Aaron Carrier, a black man who was a Veteran and a fellow Mason. Carrier and Carter, who was also a Mason, covered Bradley in the back of a wagon, intent on taking him to the river for safety. After Carter left Bradley at the river, he attempted to return home, only to be met by a band of vigilantes, who lynched him.

On the way back from the river the mob ran into Sylvester Carrier, the son of Aaron and a Veteran of the Great War. He was told to leave town, but refused. He was considered arrogant and "uppity", yet allowed to pass. He then returned to the Carrier home where he gathered as many men as possible to defend the town's women and children, most of whom were, by now, hiding in the woods.

Sylvester was known about town as "Man", and was a crack shot with a rifle. As the mob gathered for the inevitable showdown, numerous incidents of courage and heroism took place. The white sheriff had his hands full as he tried, unsucessfully, to keep some sense of order in the search for justice. By this time, most, if not all of the people involved, knew that Mrs. Taylor's had been beaten by her lover, and moreover, that no rape had taken place. But the truth is no impediment to the orgy of violence that takes place, and the mob continued to grow and their deeds became even more obscene.

Sylvester Carrier was able to get two local white train engineers to bring their train to a point outside of Rosewood, where the women and children were rescued. They were then pursued by the vigilantes as they made their way to Gainesville, and hopefully, justice. But it would be almost 70 years before this story would surface again, resulting in a Commission being formed to ascertain the truth and award damages to the remaining survivors.

Outstanding performances by Don Cheadle and Ving Rhames will keep you riveted to the screen as you watch the insanity unfold. And Esther Rolle, of TV's "Good Times", delivers one of the best performances of her career as Aunt Sarah. Jon Voight has never been in better form than in this movie, where he plays the conflicted John Wright, owner of the local General Store. Throw in perfect direction by John Singleton and this is a movie, and an historical event, which you will never, ever forget.

For more on the history of The Rosewood Massacre, see the link below;

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