It’s 5 a.m. and I get up because I don’t want to be late for the 7:30 a.m. curated bus tour through Alachua and Levy Counties.
I’ve signed up for this day-long overview of the heart-wrenching history of lynchings in Rosewood and elsewhere because I want to show kindness and support to Gainesville neighbors who have known undeserved abuse and suffering for far too long. I’ll be accompanied by members of Temple Shir Shalom and Congregation B’nai Israel and the African American community. I know the day will be challenging emotionally and that I will learn more about the capacity of humans to be cruel to each other. My expectations are, not surprisingly, surpassed. It’s been nearly a century since a mob of hundreds killed at least six innocents while they scared away permanently all the other Rosewood residents from their long-established homes, businesses, farms, churches and community.
My sadness and anger are further stoked by my concerns about the hateful and twisted rhetoric emanating from the seat of our government in Washington, D.C., to points near and far, all of which leads to more of the same ignorance, hatred and worse. Still, stopping alongside Highway 24 in Rosewood and offering Kaddish — the Jewish memorial prayer, recited this time in memory of those who perished in Rosewood — gives me those welcome holy shivers and a renewal of my hope.
Though I’ve had plenty of concerns about the ways of the world since the 1960s, recently I have realized that I have been a privileged and free white woman for nearly seven decades, and yet these days I question what I have always thought of as a guarantee of my rights. My rights to choose and act as I wish, within the bounds of human decency, now seem to be in some jeopardy, and that makes me kin in a deeper way to the ghosts and descendants of Rosewood. I have always tried to channel my anger and fears into compassion and acts of kindness, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and my Jewish heritage nourishes this purpose in intentional tikkun olam and declarations of “Never again!”
Thank you, Rosewood Heritage Foundation and Sherry DuPree for sharing your history, your struggle and your decency. Please be assured that young and old who were privileged to take the tour with you feel the same as I do, and all of us are working together for social justice and to overcome ignorance, bias and bigotry.
Heath Lynn Silberfeld lives in Gainesville and is the owner and CEO of "Enough Said: Editing, Writing, Research."