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Yes, race did play a role in the Trayvon Martin case

It doesn’t matter whether George Zimmerman was racist – the racial implications are being played out in courts, the media and websites all over the nation

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Photo: Photo BY Barry Kirsch, murdercityphotography.com, License: N/A

In 1921, July Perry wanted to vote. He wanted his neighbors to vote, too. But he was black, and his neighbors were black. One night, a group of armed whites marched to Perry’s house in Ocoee. A battle ensued, and two whites died. Perry was wounded, then arrested. Not content to wait for a show trial, a white mob kidnapped Perry either from the Orlando jail or as he was being led out of the city. They killed him. Then they systematically torched Ocoee’s black community. As many as 30 people were killed.

In 1922, Oscar Mack wanted a job. He was a black World War I vet, and he bid on, and received, a federal contract to deliver mail between a railroad depot and the post office in Kissimmee. But whites wanted that job, too. In July, two probable Klansmen decided to put Mack in his place. Mack caught wind of their plans, and when they showed up to murder him, he opened fire and killed them both. It was, quite plainly, self-defense. But blacks couldn’t claim self-defense against whites back then. After a kangaroo trial, he was taken to Orlando by an angry mob and hanged at Lake Jennie Jewel. Nobody was ever arrested for his lynching.

In 1923, Fannie Coleman Taylor wanted a scapegoat. Her lover had assaulted her, and she didn’t want her husband to find out. So she blamed a black man. Her husband summoned a mob of as many as 500 Klansmen, who marched in the black community of Rosewood looking for the supposed assailant. A week of violence followed, leaving six blacks and two whites dead, and Rosewood’s homes, stores and churches in ruins.

In 1951, Harry T. Moore just wanted to sleep. Moore founded the Brevard County NAACP, and had spent decades investigating every lynching in Florida (there were many) and fighting rampant police corruption and brutality. But on Christmas night, 1951, three pounds of dynamite exploded from under the floor joists directly beneath his bed. He and his wife, Harriette, died. Evidence pointed toward three or four Klan members, but no one was ever arrested for his murder. Eleven other known race-related bombings occurred in Florida that year.

These events, just a few of countless examples of racist violence in Florida’s history books, occurred during the nadir of race relations in the 20th century, in the aftermath of Woodrow Wilson’s virulently racist administration, with the Ku Klux Klan resurgent in the Deep South and Midwest, before the civil rights movement took hold. Things like this don’t happen anymore. Things are better now. The decades that have passed have seen the end of segregation, the civil rights movement, the first black president. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the Voting Rights Act because, in the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “our country has changed.”

This is all in the past. And the past is dead. 

 

In 2012, Trayvon Martin wanted some candy. He walked from his father’s girlfriend’s house in Sanford to the local 7-Eleven, where he purchased Skittles and iced tea. On his way back, an armed white man deemed him suspicious, and decided to follow him. There was an altercation. Trayvon, who had recently turned 17, was 6 feet tall and weighed 158 pounds. He took aviation courses at night during his freshman year at Carol City High. He wanted to be an engineer, and his teachers described him as cheerful and creative. He ended up lying on the wet grass that night, eyes open, a hollow-point bullet hole in his chest.

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