Nine-year-old Minnie Lee Langley was outside with her mother on New Year’s Day 1923 when she saw them coming: a mob of white men marching toward her hometown of Rosewood, Florida. A daughter of the Jim Crow South, where violence against black people was part of everyday life, Minnie knew that all those white men together meant terrible trouble.
“We was out there in the front yard and them crackers were just coming down the railroad just as far as you can see, some of them,” she recalled in a radio documentary in the 1990s. “Just as far as you could look, you could see them in those big white hats and on horseback.”
Even by the standards of the 1920s South, the chain of events that followed was unfathomable. Over the course of a week, Minnie Lee’s small town would be wiped off the map, with the families who lived there so terrified to speak of what happened that the town was almost wiped from history, too.