Lacoochee – Not idyllic



Lacoochee—Not Idyllic


The massacre and burning of Rosewood in 1923 preceded a 1926 fire that destroyed Cummer Cypress Company’s sawmill in Sumner in Levy County, Florida. By 1927 Cummer had a new mill up and running 100 miles away in Pasco County and the little town of Lacoochee became alive.

Today there is no trace of the segregated communities in Levy County where white families lived in Sumner and black families lived in Rosewood. Most of the men in each community had worked at the Sumner mill. When it burned, many of them followed their livelihood and relocated families 100 miles south of their previous homes.

The houses reserved for black families in Lacoochee were across the railroad tracks south of the company store. A few families built their own homes and a store or two on nearby private property. This area was known as Moss Town.

There was limited contact between the two races and the young people of each community had totally different life experiences and memories of this town.

They went to different churches and schools. They all attended the same movie theater, but whites were on the main floor, blacks were in the balcony. Medical treatment for whites and blacks was administered by the company doctor, but in separate waiting rooms.

All employees shopped at the commissary and used the company service station. They received their pay envelopes at the same office. But here, there was a front pay window for the white men, a side window for the white women, and the blacks used the window on the opposite side.

Dark, secret memories of Rosewood followed some black and white families to Lacoochee, the lynching of a man over an alleged rape of a white woman. Several other lives were lost and black families, whose homes were burned to the ground, scattered because of the ensuing rampage.

It was not until 1982 that this tragedy became widely known locally through a series of feature stories published in the Floridian section of the St. Petersburg Times. They were written by Staff Writer Gary Moore. Many former Lacoochee residents, including me, were learning of this horrendous event for the first time.

But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the adversities they faced in Lacoochee, two black men rose to prominence, decades apart. One was Mudcat Grant. The other was Arnett Doctor.

James Timothy Grant was born in Lacoochee on August 13, 1935, to Viola Grant. He went to grammar school in a small building near the mill’s lumberyard. He rode the bus with other students to attend Moore Academy, an all black high school, in Dade City. His ability as a pitcher soon became widely known, and Jesse Stanley, coach for the all-while Lacoochee Baseball Team, encouraged Mudcat to pursue his dreams of going big time.

By 1959 Mudcat was pitching for the Cleveland Indians. He became the first black pitcher to win 20 games in the American League and the first to win a World Series Game for an American League team. Today Mudcat, 75, lives in California

Arnett Doctor was born in Lacoochee to Philomena Goins (the date of his birth and residence today is unknown to this writer). He attended public schools in Pasco County. In 1992 Arnett spearheaded a claim against the State of Florida for those living survivors of the Rosewood injustices. His mother, Philomena, was 11 years old at the time of the incident and living in Rosewood.

Arnett’s cause caught the ear of Holland & Knight, a prestigious law firm with offices in Tallahassee. Martha Walters Barnett, a member of the firm, became the lead attorney and Arnett’s cause ended with a multi-million dollar settlement in favor of those survivors.

Among other things, the bill signed by Governor Lawton Chiles on May 23, 1994, established a state university scholarship fund for the families and descendants of the former Rosewood residents. With the publicity surrounding the Senate hearings, what was called the Rosewood Massacre soon spread across the nation in newspapers, television shows, published books and a movie.

The attorney, Martha Walters, was born in Dade City in 1947, and spent her early years in Lacoochee. Her father, Dr. William H. Walters, who married Helen Hancock from Trilby, was the town’s last company doctor.

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