Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Remembering Calvin Rogers (c. 1831 - Jan. 26, 1870)

This African American farmer, a former slave, first entered the historical record when he signed a petition in March 1867 addressed to Florida Bureau chief Col. John T. Sprague asking that William J. Purman be reassinged to Jackson Co. after the Bureau had tranferred Purman away from Marianna. By the following year, Rogers was serving as president of Jackson County's newly formed Republican Party. Under his leadership the county party ratified the new state constitution and issued public messages offering reconciliation with white neighbors allied with the Democratic-Conservative opposition. In the elections in the spring of 1868, Rogers became the first African American elected to public office in the history of Jackson County when he was elected Constable.

A noted "stump speaker," Rogers spoke at mass public gatherings, such as the 4th of July picnic hosted by the county's African American community in 1869. Henry Reed, a free-born African American active in public affairs during the early years of Reconstruction in Jackson Co., testified that Rogers was "a good man and as true a man as ever there was in the world." Rogers made a memorable impression on twelve-year-old T. Thomas Fortune, who, years later, memorialized Rogers in his poem "Bartow Black." Fortune recalled Rogers as "far above the average of his race in intelligence and courage."

Jackson County whites, however, viewed Rogers quite differently. They bristled at the unprecedented situation of a black man holding a law enforcement position with the authority to arrest whites. They resented Rogers's "domineering manner" and accused him of "repeated acts of oppression in his office of both white and colored." White opinion regarded him as "a bad, bold and dangerous man." The country board of commissioners tried to discourage his service as constable by imposing the onerous obligation of posting a $1,500 bond for guarantee of his performance of the official duties. By the fall of 1869, the Regulators had targetted Rogers for assassination.

The story of Calvin Rogers's role in the terrible events of the fall of 1869 are told in detail in previous posts on this blog. After being wounded at the picnic shooting in late September, Rogers was accused, on very thin evidence, of culpability in the murder of Maggie McClellan. He was hunted relentlessly until finally cornered in Marianna on this day, 140 years ago. If Rogers was responsible for the reprisal shootings on Oct 1, 1869, when intended targets were clearly James McClellan and James Coker, he showed gravely poor judgment. He may have hoped to forstall his own inevitable murder by decapitating the Regulators' leadership. Instead, recklessness merely compounded the tragedies.

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