The tragic, racially motivated shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, and the continued refusal of the city's judicial system to charge his shooter after more than a month, is less surprising when you look at the city's history and recent past. The city claims that it is "no Selma," but Trayvon's shooting has brought to light a troubling pattern of racial injustice and prejudice.
1947 1946, the city of Sanford ran Jackie Robinson out of town while he was playing for the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers AAA team, which trained in Sanford.
The mayor of Sanford was confronted by what the author describes as a "large group of white residents" who "demanded that Robinson...be run out of town."Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey thought he knew Florida and that Robinson's presence on the team would go over OK if he tried to placate the locals by ensuring that Robnson didn't try to stay at any Sanford hotels, didn't eat out at any restaurants not deemed "Negro restaurants," didn't dress in the same locker room as his teammates. But these racist steps weren't enough for Sanford, and Rickey would have known this if he had looked into the town's past:
The mayor caved. On March 5, the Royals were informed that they would not be permitted to take the field as an integrated group. Rickey was concerned for Robinson's life and sent him to stay in Daytona Beach. His daughter, Sharon Robinson, remembered, "The Robinsons were run out of Sanford, Florida with threats of violence."
This was a low moment for Jackie. The man whose number 42 is retired throughout Major League Baseball almost quit and rejoined the Negro Leagues.
Branch Rickey had miscalculated the degree to which Jim Crow was entrenched in Sanford. As an example, an inanimate object, a second-hand piano, purchased in 1924 from the courthouse for use in a segregated school in nearby Oviedo, was filed as a "Negro Piano" in the school board's record; living human beings challenging segregation certainly would not be tolerated.Then there's the tragic story of schoolteacher Harry Tyson Moore, who was the founder of the first branch of the NAACP in Florida's Seminole County, where Sanford is located. Moore fought tirelessly for racial equality in Sanford, including voting rights for African Americans:
From 1944 to 1950 Moore’s work led to an increase in Black voter registration in Florida to 31 percent of those eligible to vote, higher than any other Southern state.In Sanford's more recent past, the 2010 case of Sherman Ware has some troubling similarities to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.
Moore was a bold “race man,” and because of his relentless methods he was dangerous in the eyes of many in the White community.
So much so that on Christmas night of 1951, the home of Moore and his wife Harriette Vyda Simms Moore was fire bombed. It was the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary. Moore died on his way to a Sanford hospital and his wife died 9 days later of her injuries.
After their deaths, firebombing became a popular method of White racist intimidation in the South.
No one was ever indicted in their murders. However, in 2006 the state of Florida concluded the Moore’s were murdered as a result of a conspiracy by the Central Florida Ku Klux Klan.
On Dec. 4, 2010, 21-year-old Justin Collison, was captured on a YouTube video leaving a Sanford bar, when he walked up behind an unsuspecting Ware, a homeless African American man, and punched him in the back of the head, which drove Ware's face into a utility pole and then onto the pavement.
Sanford police questioned Collison that night and had possession of the video but did not arrest him. You see, Collison's father is a Sanford police lieutenant and his grandfather is a former circuit judge and wealthy Florida landowner. Collison wasn't arrested until one month later, and only after news organizations began airing the video.
As we all continue to fight for justice for Trayvon Martin, it's important to remember that we are fighting not just this one tragic incident in a vacuum, but we are fighting a deeply engrained, systemic structure of racial injustice in Sanford, Florida. Blogger Sean Yoes said it best:
Let’s hope real justice is served in the murder of Trayvon Martin so that town’s omnipresent and volatile racial powder keg isn’t ignited once and for all.