Five Things You Didn’t Know About Sanford’s Racist Past
Suburban town’s history places Trayvon Martin tragedy among horrid record of racism
There’s a reason why the chapters on slavery in most high school textbooks are short -- it's rarely an easy subject to revisit for descendents.
In Sanford, Fla., the suburban town that is now infamous for allegedly mishandling the investigation of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s shooting death, racial tensions seemed to have always bubbled just below the surface.
A Mother Jones report by Adam Weinstein detailed several reasons why this is. Here are five of them:
1. Sanford’s founder wanted to ship freed blacks back to Africa
Henry Shelton Sanford established the town in the 1870s, conceiving it as a citrus hub. Although the industry never really took off there, Sanford had established a trade relationship with Belgium, which controlled the African territory of Congo. Sanford advocated sending freed African American slaves to rid white residents of the “gathering electricity from that black cloud spreading over the Southern states," as the founder is on record for saying.
2. Racial tensions swelled after town merged with black enclave
There was no “back-to-Congo movement,” Weinstein wrote. A merger with a neighboring black community, Goldsborough, created new tensions. That community’s black officials – the mayor, the Council people, the postmistress, the jailers and the marshal – were not given municipal jobs to replace the ones they lost.
3. Racists chased a young Jackie Robison out of town
“Before he broke Major League Baseball's race barrier in 1947, Robinson played for a Dodgers farm team in Sanford,” Weinstein wrote. White residents didn’t like that one bit and violently demanded the mayor remove Robinson from the town team. The Robinson family was “run out of Sanford,” fearing violence, Robinson’s daughter recently told The Nation.
4. Town officials resisted integration of public accommodations
In addition to Sanford’s record for clinging to barbaric laws well into the 1980s, town officials resisted racial integration of public facilities. Instead of opening public pools to all residents, whites and blacks, town officials closed them altogether, according to archived newspaper clippings.
5. Police have failed at proper investigations before
The initial (and lackluster) investigation of Trayvon Martin’s death is hardly the first occasion when local police officials seemed to drop the ball. In 2006, two off duty security guards, one the son of a Sanford cop, “killed a black teen with a gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges,” Weinstein wrote. In 2010, the son of a Sanford PD lieutenant was videotaped sucker-punching a homeless black man. Officers on the scene released him without charges.
It’s worth noting that the town of Sanford has been on the radar of black civil rights activists from some time. Rev. Jesse Jackson made remarks about Sanford’s past, during a press conference with Martin’s parents last week.