by Patrick H. Moore
During the jury selection process in the George Zimmerman second-degree-murder trial, various potential jurors spoke disparagingly about the demonstrations in Sanford, FL that were instrumental in bringing about the charges against Mr. Zimmerman. For example, one juror, during voir dire, characterized the large protests in Sanford following the local prosecutor’s failure to charge Zimmerman as “riots.” In addition, those individuals proclaiming Zimmerman’s innocence have been quick to claim that this a simply a case of justifiable self-defense and equally quick to deny that there is any racial element to this case. The prosecution, on the other hand, is claiming that Zimmerman targeted Trayvon Martin because he was black.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of this, I did some research and here is what I found:
- Florida historically had a larger per capita percentage of KKK lynchings of African- Americans than any state in the union.
- The area around Sanford was formerly a hotbed of Central Florida KKK activity.
- The great baseball player Jackie Robinson, the first black to ever play major league baseball, was driven out of Sanford by the KKK and other racist elements of the community during spring training in 1946.
- Harry Tyson Moore, the founder of the first branch of the NAACP in Seminole County, Fla., the county Sanford is located in, was murdered by the KKK in a firebombing in 1951. His wife also died from injuries she sustained during the firebombing.
The Jackie Robinson Incident
Sean Yoes in a special report to AFRO on March 28, 2012, described both the Jackie Robinson incident and the Harry Tyson Moore incident.
The legendary Branch Rickey, owner and General Manager of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, broke Major League Baseball’s “color barrier” when he signed Jackie Robinson to a Dodgers’ contract in February of 1946. Robinson was then assigned to the Dodgers’ minor league team, the Montreal Royals. On March 4, 1946 Robinson and the Royals were scheduled to play an exhibition game in Sanford as part of a tour of the Deep South.
When Robinson — accompanied by sportswriter Sam Lacy — arrived at the stadium in a car that evening, he was met by “a large crowd of Sanford’s White citizens…some of them members of the Ku Klux Klan, which was very active in that region of the state.” The group of white citizens was “determined to keep Robinson out of ‘their’ ballpark” and were further “determined to run Robinson out of Sanford one way or another.”
The group of white racists met with the mayor of Sanford and demanded Robinson be forced out of town. Sanford city officials then informed the Royals that black and white ballplayers would not be allowed on the same playing field.
According to Mr. Lacy, future Hall-of Famer and lifelong Republican Robinson “was undeterred by the hostile throng gathered at the stadium.” Lacy and Robinson drove around to the back of the ballpark and managed to enter the field through a hole in the outfield fence.
Mr. Lacy has not stated whether Robinson actually played in the game that night. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the pall of racial oppression was as thick as the humidity that infamous March night in Sanford. After the game, Dodgers’ G.M. Branch Rickey decided it was too dangerous for Robinson to be in Sanford and Robinson left town and presumably never came back.
The Harry Tyson Moore Firebombing Incident:
The murder of black activist Harry Tyson Moore and his wife in Sanford – “five years after Jackie Robinson was run out of town – and decades before the Trayvon Martin tragedy – shook the Black community of Central Florida to its core.”
Moore was a local teacher who worked tirelessly for equal pay for black teachers in Florida public schools. He was also the founder of the first branch of the NAACP in Seminole County and eventually became the state secretary for the Florida chapter of the NAACP. Among other things, he filed lawsuits against voter registration barriers for African-Americans and investigated lynchings.
Moore’s tireless work between 1944 and 1950 “led to an increase in Black voter registration in Florida to 31 percent of those eligible to vote, higher than any other Southern state.”
Moore’s good work resulted in him becoming a “marked man” in the eyes of racist elements in the local community. Christmas night of 1951 was the 25th wedding anniversary of Moore and his wife, Harriette Vyda Simms Moore. On that night his house was fire bombed.
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.
Thus, Sanford’s legacy of racial intolerance is a historical fact. The characterization of the demonstrations that led to the charges being filed against Zimmerman as “riots” appears to be emblematic of that racial intolerance. I personally anticipate that George Zimmerman will be acquitted of the second-degree-murder charges. In the event that he is convicted, however, it is entirely possible that a new wave of racial violence against blacks may break out.
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