After ReparationsHistorians in the News
tags: Florida, African American history, discrimination, reparations
TALLAHASSEE — Ever since Morgan Carter was a little girl, her grandmother would tell her a story. It was about an old mill town, deep in the backwoods of north Florida — a place where black people did well for themselves. The town was called Rosewood. That’s where Carter’s great-grandfather Oren Monroe was born.
In 1923, when Monroe was 8 years old, an all-white mob burned the town to the ground. They killed six people, maybe more. He escaped with a group of women and children on an unusually cold night, wading through a swamp before boarding a train that took them to a safer place.
Carter was destined to be the story’s happy ending. Because of the pain Monroe’s community suffered, the Florida legislature passed a law in 1994 allowing descendants of Rosewood to go to college in the state tuition-free. The law is regarded as the first instance of a legislative body in the United States giving reparations to African Americans.
More than 25 years after the law passed, Carter slumped over a textbook on an empty dining table. It was December, and finals were approaching. She was most of the way through a six-year program at Florida A&M University to earn a pharmacy doctorate, one of the school’s most intensive programs. She closed her textbook, frustrated; then she opened it again.
“I can’t mess this up,” she said. “If I mess this up, I mess it up for me and my cousins and people I don’t even know.”
In the world outside Carter’s stressful college bubble — she is continuing her studies online from her Tallahassee apartment because of the coronavirus outbreak — politicians had been debating reparations for black Americans with unprecedented vigor. A bill to study the issue got its first hearing in Congress last year, and virtually every Democratic presidential candidate pitched a racial justice platform as way to atone for the country’s original sin.
Even so, supporters of reparations acknowledge the stumbling blocks of figuring out the appropriate way to pay back black Americans for centuries of enslavement and systemic discrimination. They also face the challenge of persuading skeptical lawmakers who consider reparations a pipe dream with no lasting effect.
The Rosewood bill stands out as a rare example of a group overcoming those challenges — and the impact of the law lingers across campuses such as FAMU. Since 1994, 297 students have received Rosewood scholarships, according to state records compiled at the request of The Washington Post.
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