Florida’s Uncovered Racist Past Following Trayvon Murder

Vanessa Estime

By now, the unfortunate murder of Trayvon Martin by his assailant George Zimmerman has made headlines on every local and major media outlet. The tragic story – 17 year old African American Trayvon Martin was gunned down by White Hispanic George Zimmerman during the early evening near a gated community on February 26, 2012 – has gripped the nation and fuelled responses from lay people to professional athletes, politicians, and civil rights leaders.

Every day, new facts surrounding the case surface in news reports including this interesting revelation – racial tension has plagued the town of Sanford, Florida since the days of Jackie Robinson. Robinson was forced to leave the town twice by “100 angry locals” while training with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946. Currently, there is no mention anywhere in Sanford of the baseball legend’s stay. The Associated Press quoted Chris Lamb, an author, as saying, “A specter of Jackie Robinson haunts the city of 53,000 people to his day. People want to forget it, and it shouldn’t be forgotten.”

66 years later after Jackie Robinson’s encounter with Sanford, the death of Trayvon Martin has reawakened the racial tension. Since his death, many people spoke out against the case and marched for “justice for Trayvon” all over the country. While prosecutors initially declined to charge Zimmerman for the crime, and his lawyers said that the case should not be looked at through a racial lens, civil rights leaders such as the Reverend Al Sharpton demanded justice. “We’ve come from the plantation, from the outhouse to the White House. You can’t shoot our children no more.”

Last month, the NAACP held town hall meetings in Sanford where African American residents voiced their opinion on police conduct. The details compiled by the organization will be sent to the Department of Justice to begin a possible investigation on police misconduct. At the same time, many people are still convinced that Sanford is “Florida’s Friendly City.”

Albeit the troubling nature of the whole incident, there is a positive seen from it, Velma Williams, the only African American on Sanford’s city commission, said “despite this tragedy, some food is going to come out of it. This subject which no one wants to talk about – race relations – will occur. We’re going to have to get together.”