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Forum Post: Jackie Robinson, Trayvon Martin and the Sad History of Sanford, Florida By Dave Zirin

Posted 2 years ago on March 28, 2012, 8:34 a.m. EST by flip (7174)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Sanford, Florida is a city that will now be known for all times as the place where Trayvon Martin was killed for the crime of Living While Black. It's in addition the place whose institutions – the police department, the local press, and even the city morgue - treated Trayvon and his body in ways that should disturb anyone with a shred of conscience.

The city of Sanford also has a past that speaks to the racism many believe to be at the heart of why Trayvon was killed and why the man who pulled the trigger was never arrested. I'm not arguing that Sanford, Florida is somehow more or less twisted than anywhere else. Last month, unarmed, 18-year-old Ramarley Graham was killed in his bathroom by police in New York City. Last week Dane Scott Jr. in Del City, Oklahoma was killed by police after a “scuffle.” The state Medical Examiner's office, however, declared Scott's death a homicide. The murder of Trayvon Martin is only a “local issue” if we understand “local” to mean local communities across the country.

But Sanford, Florida does have its own history and it includes a collective moment of intolerance and bigotry that almost derailed the man Martin Luther King called “a freedom rider before freedom rides,” Jackie Robinson.

Before Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers, he spent a season desegregating the minor leagues, playing for the Dodgers AAA team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals held Spring Training in Sanford.

Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey, after so many years, thought he knew Florida. He believed that Robinson’s presence could go over if efforts were taken to ruffle as few feathers as possible. Robinson, on Rickey’s instructions, didn't try to stay at any Sanford hotels. He and his wife didn’t eat out at any restaurants not deemed “Negro restaurants." He didn't even dress in the same locker room as his teammates.

Rickey thought that would be enough. He thought he knew Florida. But he didn't know Sanford.

As Jean West, a school teacher in Florida, wrote, "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."

It wasn't. 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."

The Mayor caved. On March 5th, 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.

The team then took an extraordinary step. As the late tennis star Arthur Ashe wrote in A Hard Road to Glory, Rickey, ''moved the entire Dodger pre-season camp from Sanford, Florida, to Daytona Beach due to the oppressive conditions of Sanford.'' That sounds heroic and it speaks well for Rickey's fierce desire to forge ahead with “the Great Experiment”, racists be damned. But the mob in Sanford had made, at least for the moment, a successful stand. In cites and small towns across the south, Jackie Robinson’s mere presence provoked challenges to power and provoked real, meaningful change. In Sanford, change did not come that easily.

What does this tell us? Maybe nothing, maybe everything. If nothing else, the line between Jackie Robinson and Trayvon Martin points to how institutional and systemic racism actually is. We might have short memories, but institutions only change when they are confronted and challenged. In Sanford, racist institutions took root. Now we bear the horrifying fruit.

12 Comments

12 Comments


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[-] 3 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

Blame the gun laws, blame crime statistics and fear of young blacks, blame prejudice. No one knows all the facts on this case why speculate? Apply your efforts where they will do some good, push the justice system to investigate fully.

In this case the shooter was hispanic. I seriously doubt he would have escaped the intolerance of the 1940's and been allowed to live in that neighborhood then either. Things have changed, slowly, but they have changed. Until we know all the facts we shouldn't be blaming a town of 53,000+ people today for something that happened 60 or 65 years ago in an agricultural town of around 10,000.

[-] 2 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

we should never for get our history - this is still a very racist country - having said that i agree with much of what you say!

[-] 3 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

I agree we shouldn't forget. We have come a long way and still have far to go. I just see a danger in misusing history to blame a town for something that isn't it's fault as having the potential to make things worse rather then better.

[-] 1 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

not sure the town is blameless - the police chief seems not to have done his job

[-] 2 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

Not sure I agree there, there is a Grand Jury set to meet on April 10, these things move slowly. If no witnesses come forward and the man's story can't be shaken the fault lies with the "stand you ground" law. We can't have the police deciding who gets prosecuted based on emotion alone.

[-] 1 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

i thought the grand jury situation came about because of pressure - don't follow it closely

[-] 2 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

The Grand Jury date was announced the same day that a girl made a statement that she was on the phone with the boy when he noticed he was being followed. That was on March 19, I don't know if it was scheduled earlier and simply made public that day or what.

The earliest report stated the shooter had a bloody nose and a wound on the back of his head. Some witnesses said they heard a scuffle and a cry for help. As far as I know, no one has identified who it was that cried out.

[-] 1 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

i assume you have seen the video by now - are you thinking that the young boy turned to attack his stalker? the video seems to put the lie to that

[-] 2 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

I saw the video but couldn't really make out much detail. It will probably be examined closely by the authorities. If there are inconsistencies in the story then I assume charges will be filed.

My feeling on the whole thing is the shooter acted recklessly. If there was ever case for a wrongful death suit this was it. As far as criminal action is concerned I don't know how that idiotic stand your ground law is going to effect all this. I'd like to sit back and presume he's innocent until proven guilty, but my heart says it looks at least like manslaughter on the surface of things.

[-] 1 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

we agree - i certainly do not know the facts but the cops dropped the ball at the least - if it was a white boy dead i doubt things would have been handled in the same manner

[-] 2 points by MsStacy (1035) 2 years ago

No point in getting worked up and angry over speculation. I don't know what would have happened with this police force if it had been a white boy killed. I'd have to see the crime statistics for that town. If killings are rare there then errors are likely no matter what the color of the victim. You have one version of the story and, until you find inconsistencies, you may not have any reason to arrest.

[-] 1 points by flip (7174) 2 years ago

it is a good bet that a dead white boy would have provoked a different approach if the shooter was a large black man - no need to go on with this but that is my opinion

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