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Prior to the massacre, the town of Rosewood had been a quiet, primarily black, self-sufficient whistle stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway.Trouble began when white men from several nearby towns lynched a black Rosewood resident because of unsupported accusations that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been beaten and possibly raped by a black drifter.Racial disturbances were common during the early 20th century in the United States, reflecting the nation's rapid social changes.Florida had an especially high number of lynchings of black males in the years before the massacre, including a well-publicized incident in December 1922.
At least six blacks and two whites were killed, and the town of Rosewood was abandoned and destroyed in what contemporary news reports characterized as a race riot.The incident was the subject of a 1997 feature film directed by John Singleton.In 2004, the state designated the site of Rosewood as a Florida Heritage Landmark.Sixty years after the rioting, the story of Rosewood was revived in major media when several journalists covered it in the early 1980s.
Survivors and their descendants organized to sue the state for having failed to protect Rosewood's black community.
Two pencil mills were founded nearby in Cedar Key; local residents also worked in several turpentine mills and a sawmill three miles (4.8 km) away in Sumner, in addition to farming of citrus and cotton.