As mentioned in the intro to this series, I woke up with a chip on my shoulder the morning following George Floyd’s death. I sat at my desk, ready to pick a fight with Sanford, Florida, though I only lived there for a few years.
So, I started Googling.
I was actually looking some articles from 2012, that immediately following Trayvon’s Martins’ death in Sanford, also described Jackie Robinson’s experience with the city.
I found something I wasn’t expecting; an apology from Sanford’s city government to Robinson. I eventually found this article from the Orlando Sentinel ; dateline: Sanford, Florida, April 16, 1997.
The article is about a City of Sanford meeting in which a City Commissioner speaks to that blemish on the Sanford’s past: when its police chief refused to allow Robinson, and Wright to take the field, under threat of arrest.
Commissioner Eckstein had this to to say. “We need to apologize for what happened because as long as that stain is on our soul, it hurts the city of Sanford.”
Commissioner Eckstein (“Mr. Eckstein as I knew him) had been a teacher at my high school. I was never in his class, but he was the type of person, who said hello to, shook hands with, or smiled at, just about everybody, in the hallways (which were outside in my school…because, Florida).
It was common for people grab lunch from the cafeteria and stand in the hallways, while eating, talking, laughing, yelling, swearing a bit. We’d see Mr. Eckstein coming from the distance. He was hard to miss. He had hair that was so light, it would be a stretch to call it blonde. You could see the (not quite) blonde hair from quite a distance. His nickname, since childhood, of course was…..Whitey.
Occasionally, he used to stop and talk with my football teammates. I think primarily because a some of my friends were star players, and some had been students in his class (I was neither ). I’m not sure if he knew my name, or what position I played, but he treated me like he knew me well.
I remember some Friday nights, moments before kickoff, he’d ducked into our locker room before we took the field and wish the team luck. He sometimes had one or two of his young children with him.
Once, I remember seeing him after a game, on my way back to the locker room, he told me “good game.” We’d lost, I’d missed some key blocks, and I had two penalties; I hadn’t had a good game. Still, it was uplifting to hear somebody tell me that I had.
It was good thing for Sanford to engage in some self-examination of its past. Yes, it had taken 50 years, but they addressed their problematic past. While the City of Sanford’s resolution surprised me. Though, it is unsurprising that this resolution had originated with Mr. Eckstein.