Rosewood Descendant ‘Miss Lizzie’ Shares Her Story With The Next Generation

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As Lizzie Robinson Jenkins reached across the room for the frayed, faded copy of ‘Through the Green Gate’, a decades-old book from her childhood, she slowly peeled back the cover until the delicate typography reveals an important phrase.

The children’s book published in 1939 begins the same way Jenkins signs all his messages today: “Miss Lizzie.”

As Jenkins slowly flipped through the copy, his eyes scanned the illustrations of white children carefully before sighing.

“If I had the opportunity as a kid to get a book with black kids, it would have made all the difference in the world to me,” she said.

Now, the 84-year-old founder and president of the Real Rosewood Foundation, Inc., is passing the opportunity for representation to a new generation with her upcoming children’s book, Lizzie’s Rosewood Race. The book is scheduled for publication in early 2023 to align with the centenary of the Rosewood Massacre.

The release of Jenkins’ book follows statewide debates over book bans, age-appropriate classroom materials, and race-related teaching in classrooms. In April, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning educators from teaching critical race theory, an academic concept that addresses systemic racism.

The book centers on Jenkins and her own coming of age, which she says was marked by a call to keep Rosewood’s history alive.

Rosewood was a small, predominantly black town an hour west of Gainesville that developed in the mid-1800s as people migrated through Cedar Key from other southern states. It remained a haven for black residents through the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, and like Tulsa, Oklahoma, it flourished.

Yet the racially charged violence that marks American history knew no borders. On January 1, 1923, a mob of white Sumner KKK members ravaged the picturesque town, killing six known black residents and inflict lifelong physical and emotional agony on the rest of the community.

One of these surviving members of the community was Jenkins’ aunt, Mahulda Gussie Brown Carrier, a schoolteacher at Rosewood.

One cold night when Jenkins was just five years old, her mother, Theresa Brown Robinson, sat her and her older siblings on the couch in front of the fireplace.

“Mom will tell you a story about Rosewood and her sister,” Jenkins recalled, saying her mom.

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Jenkins could tell by the tone of her mother’s voice that this story was not like the fairy tales other children heard before bed, she said.

As the youngest sibling, Jenkins was stunned to find her brothers asleep and her sister overwhelmed with disinterest as her mother’s story came to an end. But there was something about Rosewood that kept her awake and clinging to her mother’s every word, she said.

Jenkins’ mother told her she was ordained from birth to tell this story – to bear the burden of the story.

But spending her life fulfilling her mother’s wish by sharing the Rosewood story isn’t always easy, Jenkins said.

“It’s hard to say, but people want to hear it,” Jenkins said. “She said, ‘Preserve history to make sure it doesn’t repeat itself. “”

Jenkins took the Rosewood story to school with her the next day, she said — and then every day after. She went on to found the Real Rosewood Foundation in 2003, which focuses on researching, documenting, and preserving the story of the Rosewood Massacre for future generations.

Rob Murphy, a 69-year-old poet, artist and historical activist from Utah, first visited Cedar Key to help a friend travel. His obligatory internet search of the area eventually led him to the Real Rosewood Foundation.

Murphy was captivated by Jenkins and the Rosewood story, he said. He immediately penned an 18-line poem about dark history – but had no indication that Rosewood would eventually trigger his permanent move to Florida in December.

Jenkins and Murphy exchanged stories, feelings and tears for months before the idea to write a book was born. When Murphy first insisted on sharing Jenkins’ story, he knew it couldn’t be a standard biography.

Instead, he imagined Jenkins’ harrowing life manifesting in encounters with butterflies, birds, and other animals. The simple and playful nature of the storybook allows readers of all ages to digest sometimes threatening messages about prejudice and racism, he said.

“The beauty of her story is that it gives people a chance to talk about racial differences and things from our past that we’re not proud of in a non-threatening format,” Murphy said.

The book is inspired by the dirt road where Jenkins used to walk three miles to and from school every day, carrying the weight of Rosewood’s history with it. As the reader turns each page, young Jenkins treads the same dirt road, encountering a nature that portrays lessons in beauty, uniqueness, and inclusion.

The girl and protagonist’s first encounter is with a black butterfly. She says she has never seen one before.

“This butterfly is telling her, ‘I’m black, I’m beautiful, I’m unique and so are you,'” Murphy said.

Rosewood’s history is inherently violent and harrowing, but Jenkins and Murphy both agreed that “Lizzie’s Rosewood Race” would be an enjoyable way to start conversations among students, parents, and teachers about Florida’s dark history, whether safe, age-appropriate and focused on a real character.

While campaigning for the midterm elections, Jenkins had the opportunity to show her book to a 2-year-old black girl and her grandmother. The little girl’s curious finger landed on the depiction of young Lizzie before saying a word that validated Jenkins’ new writing project: “Me.”

“I could have fallen out of my chair,” Jenkins said.

After the book’s publication, copies will be available for purchase on the Real Rosewood Foundation’s website, but Jenkins is passionate about personally bringing her story to different North Florida classrooms. She plans to do a book tour next year, she said.

A former teacher herself, Jenkins said she understands how children learn and deal with diversity. When members of Archer’s school were concerned about racial disparities in office visits and behavioral infractions, Jenkins knew she could help.

“They need to see a black face,” she said. “They need to see a presence they don’t see. It’s not because the child is being disrespectful – you just don’t understand how to meet their needs.

Telling Rosewood’s story will always be difficult, Jenkins said. But her mother told her to keep the story alive, and that’s what she aims to do with “Lizzie’s Rosewood Race.”

“If we start with the kids — especially in an unstable political climate where it’s controversial to talk about black history and race — that would be a wonderful introduction to Rosewood’s larger picture,” Murphy said. .

Contact Averi at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @averijkremposiky.

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Averi Kremposky

Averi Kremposky is a journalism major at the University of Florida. When she’s not covering music, art and culture for The Avenue, you can catch her going to a concert, finishing another book in one sitting, or submitting to Taylor Swift’s latest album theory. .

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