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NEWS

Trayvon Martin case is a black eye for Sanford

As public scrutiny mounts, the city of Sanford struggles with its reputation

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Duncan says he lives in a predominantly white neighborhood, but as an African-American man who spends time in a lot of predominantly African-American places, he sees how black residents and white residents of the same city often live in very different worlds. In one world, Sanford is a quaint, historic city where the black and white communities co-exist peacefully; in the other, people are accustomed to being separate and sometimes not always treated as equal.

It's common knowledge in Central Florida that Eatonville was the first African-American city incorporated in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation. It's less commonly heard that Goldsboro, an enclave located within Sanford city limits, was actually the second. In 1891, Goldsboro, a settlement of black dock workers and agricultural laborers, was incorporated by a black store owner named William Clark and 19 voters. According to Francis Oliver, a longtime resident of Sanford and curator of a collection of Goldsboro artifacts contained in a blue double-wide trailer set up on 13th Street, this somewhat barren (and in some spots ramshackle) strip was once Goldsboro's main thoroughfare, a flourishing commercial strip with homes, shops, a post office, a police station and a jail.

In 1911, though, the mayor of Sanford, Forrest Lake, a banker and city booster whose administration is notable for its controversy, corruption and ambitious development projects, wanted the city to expand to the west. He had his eye on Goldsboro. He successfully petitioned the state legislature to revoke the city's charter, and Goldsboro was annexed by Sanford. Its streets, which were originally named for its founding fathers, were renamed, its post office and jail shuttered, its autonomy revoked and some of its businesses shut down. Oliver says that people who considered themselves entrepreneurs, leaders and politicians found themselves out of work and resentful. White farmers tried to hire them to work in the celery fields, but many refused.

“The police used to come down 13th Street and pick men up off the street and put them in jail,” she says. “They'd make them work it off in the fields.”

Over the years, Sanford – like most Southern cities – struggled with race relations. According to a short book written by Oliver, called A Timeline of the Civil Rights Struggle by Blacks of the Goldsboro Community and Sanford, FL, and the Trailblazers That Led the Way, in the 1920s, a black church was burned down after white neighbors complained about it, presumably to drive the black worshipers out. The book also recounts how, in the 1950s, residents of Sanford organized a local chapter of the NAACP after learning that a white store owner in the Goldsboro community was locking black kids in a walk-in freezer for allegedly stealing candy. In the 1960s, the city of Sanford closed its public swimming pool – which was for whites only – because a black teenager decided to take a swim. The city later built a new pool for the black community, but closed it down not long after, citing lack of money to keep it running. The city eventually filled in both of its swimming pools, and according to a 2000 story in the Orlando Sentinel, many suspect the reason was to avoid having to integrate them. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Oliver says, the black community had to battle for school integration, busing of black kids to Seminole County public schools and the revamping of the City Commission to make sure that the city's black community could elect its own representative to the commission. According to a 1983 story in the Daytona Beach Morning Journal, that last battle was won in a federal class-action suit claiming that the city's black community had long been denied fair representation in city government. Beginning with its 1984 elections, the city stopped electing all of its members at large and instead divided the city into voting districts, each of which could elect its own representative.

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