History and the people who make it: Mary Hall Daniels

Mary Hall Daniels [MHD], last known survivor of the 1923 Rosewood, Florida, massacre, was interviewed by Ryan Morini and Sherri Sherrod Dupree [SSD] in January, 2012.

This is the 56th in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection.

Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.

MHD: I was born in Rosewood, Florida, June 7, 1919. Only thing I really know is what my mother told me, because I was three years old when this happened. But I can remember everything my mother told me. It all was started because of a lie; a lie of a White lady. She had a boyfriend, and there was two other people working in the house. She ran out in the streets and was hollering, “Rape! Rape! A Black man raped me!” The White men started to riot and they was driving around with shotguns and rifles in the back of a truck looking for a man they call — what was this man’s name, Ms. Dupree?

SSD: It’ll come to me in a minute. He was supposed to have been a short African American man who was out there working the pulpwood.

MHD: Yes, because his mother owned a lot of land there. His mother was one of the women working in the house with this woman when she ran out. They didn’t know why she did it, because, nobody didn’t do anything to her. From my understanding she had a husband, and she had a boyfriend. The boyfriend beat her up. And she ran out to put it on the Black man, I guess, to keep things from her husband. That’s what started the riot.

Late that night everyone was going to bed. My mother — my daddy had died. My daddy’s name was Charles Bacchus Hall, and he was from Nigeria, Africa. I didn’t know that until they started searching around out in the woods. My mother and five of us children, because I had two sisters was living and my twin sister’s name was Martha. She had died as a baby. 

So everybody got out to the woods. Momma start counting. One was missing, and the missing person was me, because I was the youngest. She left me in the bed. And she was too scared to go back to the house to get me. I don’t know who went back and got me, that I never knew, but somebody went back and carried [me] to the woods where my mother was. My momma could see the big flame and smoke, where everything was burned down. All the homes, all of the Black Americans’ homes, was burnt down. Everything we had was burned up. We had nothing but just what we had on, and I mean that was the gown or whatever I was sleeping in. 

So we stayed out there. I don’t know who was making the round for bringing us food, but they was traveling and there was a man, and these names leaves me when I start talking about it, but he rode a horse and he came through. There was a man had broke out of jail, a gang or something, and they questioned this young man afterwards then they started a what you call it? A sale. this Black man, he bid the highest, and he won everything. Well, then they thought maybe he was the man they was looking for.

But the person they was looking for was a White man that came into Rosewood. This White man was a Mason, Masonic man. There was Masonic men during that time, and most of them was in Rosewood. This White man, he met with them. And they knew what had happened. I imagined he told them. 

He was talking with this young colored man and so when they was looking for him, didn’t nobody tell who he was and where he went. They all got mad about that. They walk up to one man’s house and asked him who was this man and where was he. And he didn’t tell, because he was a Mason and the man was a Mason. At that time Masons was really Masons, and I say that because I belong to a Masonic family, too, and I’ve been about the highest degree a woman could get in the Masonic family. 

The Black man didn’t tell him where or who he was. He told him, if he didn’t, that he would kill him! He said, “Well if you kill me, you can’t eat me.” They shot him down right then and killed him. They was looking for everybody, and everybody was running and hiding. And this young man, he was helping everybody out. We all had to run. They was trying not to miss the call for the train to come to pick up the womens and the children. No men could ride the train. Nobody but just the men, the women, and the children. 

Well, Momma was out there with five children. And Ms. Carrier, the Carriers, There was a lot of them because she had children and grandchildren and all. There was people from Jacksonville that came to Rosewood, because everybody wanted to kill this Black man, but they didn’t find the Black man. So they went to the Carriers’ house. 

I’m saying what my mother said now. They went there to look for him. They had a bad dog there. He was hidden behind the stairway – all the houses that time was two-story buildings. They told him to come out, and he didn’t come out. That dog didn’t let nobody come in the yard. They shot and killed the dog. He was behind the steps. And there’s one White man gonna go in there to get him out the house. 

When the first man stepped up, he had a Winchester rifle, and he shot and killed him. Then the rest of them kinda had to back off a little bit. That’s what gave everybody time to get to the woods. My mom was already out there with us because everybody was just scared of White people. My mother and my sister Margie, till the day she died, she was just scared.

SSD: There are a couple of things that I wanted to mention here. They were looking for this short man, they said named Mingo Williams, who was working in the woods. The White man that was going with the White lady, his name was Bradley, and he was a Mason. He also worked for the railroad.

Fannie Taylor was the one that told the lie—that started the whole situation. She and Bradley had an altercation that morning, and he beat her up as they said – so she put it on Mingo Williams, an African American working in the area. Another thing we kinda got a little twisted here. When you were talking about the house where the White man came that night and got shot on the porch, two White men got shot, but you mentioned one. It was at the Carrier home, and Sylvester Carrier was the one with the shotgun.

I’m just trying to bring back some points that you talked about, but we didn’t have the names.

The other thing you gave reference to was James Carrier. James Carrier took Bradley away from the area, and he was a blacksmith. When they came there, they wanted to know where was the man that had raped Fannie Taylor. He said he didn’t know anything about it. So they killed him – he would not talk as you said. He was a mason, a 23rd degree mason, and he would not tell that he carried Bradley out of the area. He was the first one to be killed. 

They also killed Sarah Carringer [Carrier] in the Carringer home. She was upstairs, and they shot and killed her. She felt that she could talk to those people because she breastfed a lot of those young men that were out there in that riot, and she knew those guys. But when she started speaking, they lost control. Somebody fired a bullet and it did cause her to lose her life. Do you know long you all stayed in the woods?

MHD: My mom said it was round about a week. Only thing I knew was all the women and the children got on the train. And the train broke down.

White mens, and the ones that get on the train. They’re killing anything; the women and all. Children, too. And they was trying to get on the train, and if somebody was on there, they would knock them off. I don’t know what happened to the train. God, I never find out. They finally worked on it until they got it to start, then it took off and head for Gainesville.

SSD: A White man I interviewed, Mr. Brown over in Bronson, he carried me to the area. They put men in the front and back of it to shoot if anybody came around that curve while they worked on the train.

He didn’t know exactly what was wrong with it, but they worked all night to keep the people from coming in the woods to get close. They put wire from this area to that area. You couldn’t see the wire. So if you ran up on that wire, you cut yourself. 

They were out there putting wire in the woods around that train to keep the guys from getting too close. This was given to me by Reverend Brown. He’s still living. He carried me to the building where the section guys lived, it was standing there at that time. They hung around there and helped until they got that train moving again. The next stop, when it really stopped, was in Archer in the woods. Y’all were hidden down in those box cars.

MHD: Momma said, a man would come up there, then some of the mens, they knocked them back off the train.

SSD: He told me the older girls — he called them the “older gals,” they were told to keep folks away. The folks helping them were putting those wires out. They had dogs out there trying to keep that train safe. In the movie [Rosewood (1997)], they showed something different. But it did really break down.

MHD: Yeah, and I want to backtrack now. In the movie, they say she walked out there when they shot her. In Jacksonville, I met with two older ladies. One, she was kin to the Carriers, and she was in the house when she got shot. He said, “Y’all, Momma say don’t y’all cross the house. Don’t y’all get to no window or nowhere.” Say, “Stay down.” She got up and walked across the window, and whoever was out there with the rifle shot her shadow at the window this woman with her, Minnie Lee Langley, she was there when she fell.

SSD: Now, what else would you like to leave as a legacy for people to remember about you?

MHD: Trust in the Lord and have patience.

SSD: This is beautiful. Anything else you want to leave? Those are the kind of things that I’ll put out as quotes from you. Trust in the Lord, have patience, follow authority in the sense of trusting your parents and others in authority. And another thing you said to me the last time, that you didn’t hold any malice toward anybody.

MHD: And tell the truth.

SSD: Tell the truth. Now, that’s another strong legacy. Because that’s what caused Rosewood.

MHD: That’s what caused Rosewood. Tell the truth. Because if you tell the truth, it go a long ways.

A full transcript of this interview can be found by entering “Mary Hall Daniels” at https://ufdc.ufl.edu/oral, which also leads to a February 2012 interview on her later life in Gainesville and beyond. 

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program believes that listening carefully to first-person narratives can change the way we understand history, from scholarly questions to public policy. SPOHP needs the public’s help to sustain and build upon its research, teaching and service missions: even small donations can make a big difference in SPOHP’s ability to gather, preserve, and promote history for future generations.

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