In 1955, Emmett Till*, a 14-year-old from Chicago was visiting his family in Money, Miss. While on this trip, he was reportedly goaded into flirting with a shopkeeper, who happened to be a 21-year-old white woman. Several nights later, the husband and brother of the woman kidnapped Till, beat him, tortured him to death and then threw his body off a bridge.
An all-white jury took 67 minutes to acquit the brothers—taking that much time so they could enjoy a soda before rendering their verdict. The brothers then boasted of the killing after their conviction in a Look Magazine article, knowing they could not be tried again.
Sanford, Florida has a long history of Ku Klux Klan activity. The town was chronicled recently in the movie “42” as a place where baseball legend Jackie Robinson, in 1946, had to flee in the middle of the night for fear of his life.
Fast-forward 66 years and the remnants of that mentality still exist in Sanford. In the early part of 2012, George Zimmerman stalked and killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American boy. With malice in his heart, armed with a gun, Zimmerman called Martin—a person he didn’t know—an “asshole” and a “fucking punk” while talking to a police dispatcher. After being told not to follow the juvenile, Zimmerman got out of his car and stalked Martin. Moments later, the boy was dead.
The only real question in the trial that ended Saturday, with Zimmerman being found not guilty of murder, is whether Trayvon Martin had a right to stand his ground as allowed under Florida law. The only real witness was Zimmerman, with conflicting testimony coming from neighbors and a friend of Martin’s.
The simple fact is Zimmerman is the legal instigator of the incident. He got out of his car, with malice, armed with a weapon, and targeted a 17-year-old because he was black.
The cases of Till and Martin are linked because of the cultural mentality that still exists in many places in this country, especially the Deep South.
There is a large, vocal segment of the white population in the South who still revere the confederate flag. Last month in Biloxi, Miss., the “sons of the confederacy” opened a “Presidential” library in honor of Jefferson Davis. A statue of Davis, America’s greatest traitor, is actually in Statuary Hall in Congress, as Mississippi has deemed him one of their greatest citizens. Each state gets two statues.
Not to be outdone, Virginia has a statue of Robert E. Lee in the hall—also a famous traitor to the United States of America.
To deny that there is still powerful and cultural support for institutionalized inequality in some parts of our nation is to deny reality. U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ recent decision regarding the voting rights act of 1965 gives credence to those who believe civil rights for all has been achieved, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
The Deep South and the nation have made tremendous strides in civil rights. Because of civil rights laws, communities such as Sanford, Biloxi and Money have had to change. But the change is not complete, as there are still many people today who remain apologists for the philosophy of Jefferson Davis. There are those who still refer to the Civil War as the “war of northern aggression.” Some still cling to the belief that President Abraham Lincoln was evil and Jefferson Davis was a saint.
Simply go to the 50 State Strategy Facebook page and read the comments left by those who have never left the 19th century.
We have a long way to go in this country. Only in the last 50 years have we, as a nation, recognized and tried to correct our long history of institutionalized racism. The struggle is never easy and it is not complete.
The Trayvon Martin incident is a reminder of how far we still have to go in some parts of this nation. To quote the late Ted Kennedy, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream (of Martin Luther King) shall never die.”
*Emmett Till would have been 72 years old a week from today.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley. He helped found 50 State Strategy, a federally registered political action committee.