Family memories of the Rosewood massacre live on through special TPA art exhibit
When historian Lizzie Jenkins and artist Pedro Jermaine met at a Rosewood remembrance banquet a few years ago, the connection was instant and the rest, Jenkins likes to say, “is history.”
The two brought an even bigger history to life this week as they installed a new art exhibit in Tampa International Airport’s Main Terminal that includes “Hope Prevails,” a large painting depicting a scene from the 1923 Rosewood massacre, a racially motivated attack on a town of primarily black citizens in reaction to reports of an black drifter’s attack on a white woman. The massacre was a largely forgotten part of Florida history until it surfaced in media reports in the 1980s.
Jenkins, however, never forgot. She first learned of the violent attacks when she was 5 years old and her mother sat her and her siblings down to tell them the story of Rosewood 20 years earlier. Jenkins’ aunt Mahulda was targeted in the attacks and taken from Rosewood to the nearby town of Sumner where she was assaulted.
The mob, thought to be led by white men connected to the Ku Klux Klan, also burned down several structures in Rosewood as some black citizens fought back and elderly citizens and children fled to escape. The town of Rosewood was abandoned and survivors rarely spoke of it for decades.
In 1993, the Florida Legislature commissioned a report on the incident after surviving ancestors such as Jenkins came forward. As a result of the findings, Florida became the first U.S. state to compensate survivors and their descendants for damages incurred because of racial violence. Jenkins is now the President and CEO of The Real Rosewood, a non-profit dedicated to preserving memories of the tragedy.
When Jermaine, a native Floridian artist, met Jenkins, he knew he had an important mission to deliver through his work. He spent two years researching and planning before painting “Hope Prevails,” which portrays a woman ushering a child through moss-covered trees and foliage and a man with sack of belongings.
“To me, it shows an escape from suffering and oppression, much like we associate with slavery,” Jermaine said. “I’m thrilled to be able to share this piece of black history [at TPA] because I think it’s important to remember our past, good and bad.”
Jenkins said it’s an honor to be able to share her story and honor her aunt and other family members who lived through the horror of Rosewood. In Jermaine’s painting, she sees the female figure as her aunt was many years ago, staying strong and helping others, even after the ordeal of her attack.
“My mother wanted me to keep this history alive and include her sister in that history,” she said. “We need to know the history so it doesn’t repeat itself. There are several Rosewoods that happened out there that we don’t even know about.”
The “Hope Prevails” piece and four other paintings by Jermaine will be on display in the Main Terminal SkyConnect atrium between the Hard Rock Cafe and P.F. Chang’s through the month of February.