- The Rosewood Massacre: An Archaeology and History of Intersectional Violence by Edward Gonzalez-Tennant
Although the title of this book suggests that it is about a single event that took place in 1923 in Rosewood, Florida, it quickly becomes apparent that it has a much broader scope. As Edward Gonzalez-Tennant explores the meaning of racial violence in the United States, the author keeps his study closely tied to that moment and place while simultaneously covering a much wider time period and geographical scope. His starting point is an early twentieth century race riot (or pogrom) that led to the complete destruction and near-erasure of Rosewood, a small African American community located on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Beginning on New Year's Day in 1923 and ending one week later, a white mob attacked the residents of Rosewood, causing numerous deaths and the uprooting of a flourishing community that existed since the nineteenth century. Throughout the book Gonzalez-Tennant balances a finely detailed microhistory of this tragic event with a broadly ranging exploration of social science theories about violence, race, and intersectionality.
Gonzalez-Tennant is interested in more than simply chronicling the narrative of the massacre, which has been detailed by a number of prior historians and journalists, as well as by a state-funded report commissioned in the 1990s. Instead, for much of the book, he examines the patterns of American racial violence over time, noting that while the types of attacks and what they were called changed (massacres, pogroms, lynchings, race riots, etc.), the violence has continually taken three main forms regardless of time and place. He refers to these as interpersonal, structural, and symbolic violence. Gonzalez-Tennant explains that "structural and symbolic violence may not be physical, but their effects have material consequences nonetheless" (56). In this sense, racism and social inequality become types of violence that are just as damaging as a lynching. The interaction of these three [End Page 202] forms of violence also helps explain the continuity of racial violence from the past to the present. This approach allows the author to argue that there is an unbroken line connecting incidents like the Rosewood massacre to more recent events such as recurrent police killings of unarmed African American men.
In his text, Gonzalez-Tennant frequently returns to Rosewood as a specific place and moment, and towards the end of the book he describes his almost decade-long fieldwork in the community. This work has included traditional archaeological investigations, collections of oral history interviews, and the development of a historic properties geographic information system (GIS) based on the painstaking reassembly of property records. His brief summary of his archaeological findings at the former masonic lodge at Rosewood, which revealed physical evidence of the massacre, is fascinating, however his work with the historic properties via GIS may be even more important. As Gonzalez-Tennant notes, the act of mapping is itself a form of memorialization that can help descendants of former Rosewood residents grapple with the past and answer their significant questions, such as where their ancestors lived.
In addition to more traditional fieldwork, Gonzalez-Tennant also developed a digital project in which he used gaming software to create an immersive, virtual reconstruction of Rosewood. Some historians have argued that digital heritage projects sometimes create a "digital divide" rather than automatically facilitating community engagement.1 Gonzalez-Tennant argues otherwise, and cites an example in which his digital reconstruction of Rosewood did just the opposite. After learning of the project, a Rosewood landowner who had previously distrusted other researchers became inspired by the digital storytelling, and expressed a willingness to collaborate. This contact opened other doors in the community, which in turn generated more trust and interest. Gonzalez-Tennant credits this success to both the power of digital heritage as well as transparency about his methods and goals.
Public historians will find a wealth of useful ideas here, especially in the chapters on his fieldwork and digital heritage projects. Of particular note...