More than 70 years after one of the grisliest episodes of racial violence in Florida history, a move to compensate its black victims has deeply divided state government here, with some officials arguing that Florida has no obligation to the survivors and that any redress would encourage a flood of similar claims.
In a bill filed by sympathetic state legislators, a group representing 11 survivors and 45 descendants is seeking $7.2 million as compensation for the state's failure to protect the black hamlet of Rosewood during a rampage by a white mob in 1923. In a week of shooting and burning, the mob killed six residents and destroyed the town. A companion bill would also build a $1 million memorial at the site, a swampy area on Florida's Gulf Coast about 40 miles southwest of Gainesville.
The effort is supported by Gov. Lawton Chiles but is being resisted by the state Attorney General and some legislators. Paying Rosewood victims, the state argued in a legal brief filed last month, would invite "piecemeal claims by other minority groups -- black, Native American, Jewish, Japanese, Vietnamese -- who may feel similarly aggrieved by other racial violence in Florida's history."
Specifically, some opponents have expressed concern that descendants of Indians driven out of the state in the Seminole Indian Wars of the 1830's and 1840's may file claims using the Rosewood case as a legal precedent.
Some supporters, in turn, say payments made by the Federal Government to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II justify the...