The city of Sanford, Florida will forever go down in history as the place where Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. But the city is also haunted by racist memories of the past, dating back to the early days of Baseball Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson. After Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, he was sent to train with their minor league team, the Montreal Royals, in Sanford, Florida. Upon arrival, Robinson was met by an angry white mob and members of the Ku Klux Klan. They refused to let Robinson practice on the field. It was reported that Robinson had to pry himself through a hole in the fence of the baseball field to join the Royals. It was unknown as to whether or not he actually took the field. Later that night, Robinson was forced out of town to avoid serious injury by racist haters.
Sanford, Florida’s nightmare of racial injustice went on for years after the Robinson incident. The story of black civil rights activists Harry and Harriette Moore plagued the community for years. Harry Moore founded the first branch of the NAACP in Sanford, Florida. The teacher was a known advocate for voter registration and the salary disputes of black teachers. Moore’s involvement led to an approximate 31 percent increase of black registered voters in the mid to late 1940’s.
Unfortunately, hatred stirred in the local KKK, which had widespread presence in the city. On December 25, 1951, the home of Harry and Harriette Moore was firebombed. It was the couples’ wedding anniversary. They died a few days apart.
Even now, decades after Jackie Robinson encountered one of the worst bouts of racism in baseball history and the death of the Moore family, accusations of racist police brutality and wrongful death continue to lie in the courtrooms of Sanford, Florida. The city, which is approximately 30 percent black, continues the investigation of the recent murders of three black men.
With the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, the entire country has rallied around the victim’s family demanding justice. On April 10, 2012, the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin took place in Seminole, County Florida. But with the stride toward justice by the black community comes the opposer; The National Socialist Movement have posted Jeff Schoep, a.k.a. the “Hollywood Nazi” in the city of Sanford, to protect the white citizens from what is being considered impending violence.
A few days prior to the case of George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida police warned the community to brace for the verdict, which had not yet reached the national headlines. Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger issued a statement saying that “Destruction and violence after a verdict will not be tolerated.”
Now, with a “not guilty of second-degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter” verdict for the shooter of unarmed 17- year old Trayvon Martin, protestors have taken their place in the front of the courthouse where Martin’s shooter has been freed. The ruling has been called a “failure of the justice system” by political and religious officials, and African American citizens nationwide.
The NAACP has called for the Department of Justice to open a federal civil rights probe to examine the racial undertones of the shooting to substantiate a hate crime charge.
In a public statement, President Barack Obama has called the Martin case a “tragedy” and has asked for the American people “to respect the call for calm reflection from two parents who lost their young son.”
Some have compared the senseless killing of 17-year-old Martin to that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old boy who was killed by racists in Glendora, Miss., in 1955. The Chicago native was visiting relatives in Mississippi when he was accused of molesting Carolyn Bryant, a white woman in a town grocery store. A few nights later, the woman’s husband and his half-brother pulled Till from the bed of his great-uncle’s cabin as his cousin, Simeon Wright, watched in fear.
Till’s body, along with a 75-pound cotton gin fan tied to his neck and a bullet hole through his head, was found in the Tallahatchie River in Money, Mississippi by fishermen. Till’s own mother could only identify him by jewelry and the shape of his ears. He was beaten so badly his brain had to be removed before his burial. The life of Emmett Till was destructively ended for more reasons of being ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time and in front of the wrong people.’
Emmett Till’s killers were arrested on kidnapping charges and eventually acquitted. News of Till’s murder spread internationally after a gruesome photo of his battered and mutilated body was published on the cover of Jet Magazine. Mamie Till wanted the vision of her son to resonate with the community as an example of pure hatred and racism so she ordered an open casket funeral. The lives of Roy Bryant and John Milam, along with Mamie Till, Emmett’s mother, who had already lost her husband in the war, were never the same.
In a January 24, 1956 article, Look magazine published a story written by William Bradford Huie called, “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.” Huie paid Roy Bryant and John Milam $4,000 for their story on how they killed Emmett Till. In a follow-up one year later, both men had lost their businesses (which had served the local black community) and were shunned by their white counterparts.
John Milam died in 1980 from cancer and Roy Bryant died ten years later, also of cancer.
Even today, there is still an heir of mystery behind Emmett Till’s murder, with unanswered questions about the accomplices and the trial.
Questions now arise in the wake of the not guilty verdict of George Zimmerman, in comparison to the acquittal in 1956 for Roy Bryant and John Milam, killers of Emmett Till.