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For Sanford's Historic Black Community, Zimmerman Trial is Latest in Civil Rights Struggle


June 3, 2013 | WMFE - Jury selection starts June 10 in the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman. The former Neighborhood Watch volunteer faces trial in Sanford, the same Central Florida community where he shot and killed the unarmed, 17-year-old Travyon Martin last year. Zimmerman says he did it in self-defense. Sanford's also home to Goldsboro, the state's second-oldest black community. For Goldsboro residents the trial represents the latest in a long civil rights struggle.

[Photo: Trayvon Martin memorial in Goldsboro]

For Francis Oliver, Goldsboro's history is a passion. She's founder and curator of a museum in Goldsboro where she's collected relics from last year's marches calling for George Zimmerman's arrest and from memorials for Trayvon Martin.

Martin wasn't from Goldsboro, and he wasn't in Goldsboro the night of his death. He was from Miami Gardens, in Sanford with his father visiting his father's fiancée.

But now Martin forever is part of Goldsboro's history. The trial that will determine Zimmerman's fate also will define Martin's place in the community's history.

Oliver opened the museum not long before Martin's death to celebrate, as she puts it, the demise of Goldsboro a century ago, when Sanford leaders dissolved the community's charter so Sanford could expand in its place.

"We feel like that's where the friction started between Sanford and the black community because Goldsboro was an all-black city. And its never, it's always been there since 1911."

Last year's marches drew thousands and sparked protests worldwide. Sanford police delayed arresting Zimmerman for more than a month after Martin's shooting in February 2012 under the so-called "stand your ground" law. Martin was black. Zimmerman is Hispanic and white.

The marches began with black community leaders here in Goldsboro, who say they don't expect the same for Zimmerman's trial because already they have achieved what they wanted. Valerie Houston is pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church in Goldsboro.

"The purpose of the demonstrations and the crowd visuals and the rallies was to get Zimmerman arrested so the family would have some peace of mind about what actually happened."

At those marches Martin transformed from a 17-year-old boy to a symbol, with images of his face appearing on T-shirts and posters. To Houston Martin is a …

"pioneer, as all persons who died unjustly. He's right up there with Dr. Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers and all of those civil rights leaders who fought for a cause."

The marches represented a bubbling-over of long-simmering tensions between Sanford and Goldsboro. Since then Sanford leaders have worked to strengthen relations.

They hired a new police chief in April. Cecil Smith, who is black, has been going door-to-door in Goldsboro meeting with residents. He says building trust also includes …

"Being at the community meetings. Showing up at Neighborhood Watch meetings. Showing up at kickball programs that are offered in the community. Working with kids at the Westside Community Center, which is right in the heart of Goldsboro."

Turner Clayton Junior is the local president of the NAACP. He says tensions have simmered for so many years, and mending relations will take many more.

"There have been so many different cases where law enforcement has actually disappointed the community, in a lot of cases. And so he has his work cut out for him, and so of course going around knocking on doors is a start, but its going to take more than that."

Sanford police have been working with Goldsboro leaders to bolster security for the trial. Smith won't discuss details but urges against civil disorder.

"All of the national media, all of the glow, all of the things that are happening outside of this community, if it has an influence on this community once it's all done we are the ones who will have to be here to resolve whatever those issues are and live with whatever comes of it."

Across the street from the Goldsboro museum is a new permanent memorial for Martin. Francis Oliver says Goldsboro wants justice, and if Zimmerman is acquitted the community will feel as though …

"Justice did not prevail. And if you still can kill a black boy who all he got is Skittles and iced tea in his hand then we're not safe on the streets."

Goldsboro is a half-dozen miles from the courthouse where Zimmerman will face trial.

 

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