Racial Tension Runs Through Sanford's Roots The historic wrongs against the local black community go back a long way in the Florida city. The memory of those events is still fresh, and they are getting another airing in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, which protesters have called racially motivated.
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Racial Tension Runs Through Sanford's Roots

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Racial Tension Runs Through Sanford's Roots

Racial Tension Runs Through Sanford's Roots

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Sanford has a history of wrongs against the local black community. The memory of those events is still fresh, and they're getting another airing in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case.

From member station WMFE, Mark Simpson reports.

MARK SIMPSON, BYLINE: Modern Sanford is built on the shoulders of several historically black communities. One of them, Goldsborough, was incorporated in 1891, one of the earliest black towns in Florida.

FRANCES OLIVER: With its own post office, its own jail, its own city council, its own everything.

SIMPSON: Frances Oliver curates the Goldsborough Westside Historical Museum. Her daughter is an attorney for Trayvon Martin's family. Oliver says Goldsborough was absorbed by Sanford in 1911, an act that left bad feelings over how the town was treated.

OLIVER: Never paid restitution to the people who lost their jobs and asked for money because they had no lower jobs. The mayor didn't have a job; city council people didn't have a job; the postmistress didn't have a job; the jailers didn't have a job; the marshal didn't have a job.

SIMPSON: Willie Saunders grew up in the area in the 1940s and '50s. Saunders had a paper route back then, and still remembers his boss at the Sanford Herald. The older, white man refused to touch him.

WILLIE SAUNDERS: You know, I didn't think about it then. I'm a kid, you know what I mean? Because every time when I would come to give him the monies for the route, he would say, put it on the counter; put it on the table. And, you know, every time - you know, when he'd give me my money, he'd put it on the table.

SIMPSON: Author Valada Parker Flewellyn collected stories for the book "Images of America: African-Americans of Sanford." She says in 1946, baseball legend Jackie Robinson was run out of town during spring training. Local authorities did not want to see blacks and whites playing together.

VALADA PARKER FLEWELLYN: When Jackie Robinson came out onto the field, the sheriff's department came and protested that the game would not start. So he had to be escorted away from Sanford, and they took him to Daytona.

SIMPSON: From the late 19th century until around World War II, Sanford was a major agricultural center in Florida. It was known as the celery capital of the world. And its location on the St. Johns River made Sanford a major port, and a bigger city than nearby Orlando for much of the 20th century.

Today, one of Sanford's favorite hangouts is the River Walk. On warm, sunny evenings, it's the norm to see black, white and Hispanic residents fishing or out for a stroll.

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SIMPSON: An ice cream truck nearby makes it feel like summer. Hattie Ensley grew up in Sanford, and enjoys a moment of calm with her fiance by the river. She reflects on the situation that's gripped the city for weeks.

HATTIE ENSLEY: Well, I went to the town hall meeting, you know, at Allen Chapel. And I think everything was handled pretty peacefully, and I think this is what we want. We want it to be peaceful, and no violence.

SIMPSON: Hattie Ensley insists all she wants, in this case, is justice.

For NPR News, I'm Mark Simpson in Orlando.

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