BY MARTIN E. COMAS
ORLANDO SENTINEL (MCT)
In the heart of Sanford’s poorest and largest Black enclave – a stone’s throw from decaying homes, broken sidewalks and vacant lots – stands the city’s new, state-of-the-art public safety complex.
For a while, some residents saw the modern, two-story building as a symbol of hope that might spur economic growth and keep people safer in historic Goldsboro, one of Florida’s oldest Black communities.
But memories are long and hope is elusive in Goldsboro, founded more than 120 years ago by Black laborers struggling to survive in the segregated South.
Symbol of distrust
Today, just 21 months since its opening, the $16 million Sanford Public Safety Complex, with its glass and concrete facade, is little more than a gleaming symbol of distrust to many of its 4,000 neighbors just southwest of downtown Sanford.
The shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the Police Department’s decision not to charge George Zimmerman immediately vanquished any efforts toward good will.
Instead, the Back teenager’s killing rekindled long-held fears and suspicions among Goldsboro residents, who say they’ve watched for generations as a dual standard of justice played out on their streets.
History of attacks
Nearly 15 months before Trayvon was shot, Justin Collison, who is White, walked up behind a homeless Black man outside a Sanford bar, drew back his arm and slammed a fist into the back of the man’s head. A video showed the victim fall forward, hit his head on a pole and drop to the ground, breaking his nose.
The unprovoked attack sparked widespread outrage.
Sanford police did not frisk or handcuff Collison, whose father is a police lieutenant with the department. Instead, they set him free.
He wasn’t arrested until a month later and eventually was sentenced to probation.
Five years earlier, a crowd watched as a White police officer – with a reputation for aggressive behavior toward Blacks — repeatedly punched a Black man who was on the ground, in handcuffs, after having been shocked with a Taser by other officers during an arrest.
The Sanford police chief fired the officer for behavior related to the incident, but the city manager rehired him.
So many cops
Today, those in Goldsboro see plenty of police officers patrolling their streets, but they complain that few are trying to build relationships with the community. And some residents are beginning to question why the new Police Department was built in Goldsboro in the first place.
“You see police cars cruise up and down the streets,” said Leonard Killingsworth, 33, as he fished along the shores of Lake Monroe near Sanford’s Fort Mellon Park. “But when you go to the White neighborhoods or the downtown area, you don’t see that.”
Oscar Redden, more than 30 years older than Killingsworth, understands these suspicions.
Learned to distrust
Redden, who operates a drug-rehabilitation center in Goldsboro, remembers making the mistake as a young boy in the late 1950s of wandering into a part of downtown Sanford considered off-limits to young Blacks.
A police officer “backed me into a corner and said: ‘Boy, what are you doing here? Get back to Goldsboro,’ ” Redden recalled. “It’s those kinds of incidents that will have Black people, even today, teach their children to be aware of police officers and be aware of who you are dealing with. We learned to distrust the police.”
For Redden and thousands of others in Goldsboro, the Martin case was the tipping point.
“You can only turn your cheek so many times,” Redden said. “Trayvon was the straw that weighed down the wagon and made the wheel come off.”
Finally, a voice
Goldsboro could no longer contain its anger. It was here that rallies and marches organized by civil-rights leaders, community activists, clergymen and concerned residents took place in the weeks after Trayvon was shot.
It was in Goldsboro and in front of Sanford’s public safety complex where the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, along with national NAACP President Ben Jealous, marched with scores of Black and White protesters demanding justice.
After 121 years, Goldsboro’s residents had a voice, and their community became ground zero for a heated national debate about race and justice.
Once a thriving town
Goldsboro at one time was a thriving center of life for Blacks in Sanford. It was founded in 1891 by Black laborers who hauled citrus and vegetables at the nearby railroad yard and St. Johns River docks.
It eventually became Florida’s second Black incorporated town, following Eatonville. At the time, Goldsboro Boulevard was bustling with shops, restaurants, beauty parlors and stores. The community had its own police department, its own fire department, its own post office and its own City Hall with a mayor and council elected by its residents.
But by 1911, adjacent Sanford had become one of the largest vegetable-shipping hubs in the Southeast, and city leaders looked westward to expand its borders. Sanford overtook tiny Goldsboro and stripped the community of its charter.
Identity slowly fades
Goldsboro’s police and fire departments, its post office and its City Hall were closed. The streets, originally named after its Black founders, were renamed.
The identity forged by its citizens slowly faded.
But some businesses continued to thrive, in large part because of a demand nurtured by racism.
There was the popular Snow’s cafe, known among Blacks traveling through Sanford in the 1940s and 1950s as the place to go for hot food and strong coffee. And they knew they would be treated as real customers.
Down the street was McAllister’s Hotel and Ezekiel’s Radio Shop. And if you were looking for an ice cream cone on a hot day, there was Sonorky’s Sundaes or the Sugar Bowl.
“These businesses boomed partly because Sanford was totally segregated,” said Francis Col eman Oliver, a longtime resident and historian who last year set up the Goldsboro West Side Historical Museum.
‘Ignored’ at shops
Through the decades, the civil rights movement and other historic social changes had a profound effect on the country.
But Jim Crow lingered in parts of Central Florida even after desegregation.
As recently as the 1970s, Sanford’s Black police officers were told not to patrol White areas of the city, while White officers had no such restrictions.
And many mom-and-pop shops in town continued turning away Black customers, Oliver said.
She remembered being a young teacher in 1970 and walking into a locally owned restaurant in Sanford for a meal. She waited nearly an hour before finally getting up and leaving.
“They just basically ignored me,” she said. “I just sat and waited, and no one came up to me.”
Eventually, national chains would open stores along increasingly busy U.S. 17-92 in Sanford, welcoming Goldsboro residents.
That’s when the businesses in Goldsboro “faded out as they lost their customers,” Oliver said.
Today, Goldsboro is one of Central Florida’s poorest areas. The average household income is $20,690 a year, and about 75 percent of families with children are living in poverty, according to the U.S. census.
Sarah Floyd, 81, remembers a time when “there would be a lot of people walking up and down the sidewalks, going into the stores.”
But now, said the owner of the West 13th Street Barbershop on Historic Goldsboro Boulevard, “people don’t open businesses here.”
Floyd’s blunt assessment of Goldsboro’s slide to economic decay shows the immense challenge facing Sanford as it tries to move beyond the international scorn sparked by Martin’s death.
The ‘boiling point’
But in many ways, said Turner Clayton Jr., president of the Seminole County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the city has only itself to blame.
Sanford, he said, has never made efforts to reach out to the Black community after such incidents. And that has fueled the perception that the city is run by good old boys.
“The problem with the city’s leadership is that they hope these things will go away,” Clayton said.
“But it never goes away. It (racial tension) just builds up and builds up over time until it reaches a boiling point. They never reach out to the community, to get them involved and open the lines of communication.”
Sanford officials point to steps they have taken in recent months to help heal their wounded city.
On July 30, the city invited residents to express their ideas about memorializing Martin and others killed in Sanford. A day later, local pastors held a prayer vigil outside the Police Department.
In June, Sanford renamed West 13th Street to Historic Goldsboro Boulevard, the road’s original name. And Sanford Commissioner Velma Williams, a Goldsboro resident who urged the name change, has started another effort to rename Lake Avenue to Clark Avenue in recognition of William Clark, one of Goldsboro’s founders and its last mayor.
In April, city officials invited protesters and residents to a community meeting at the Second Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, where they announced a series of new policies aimed at soothing racial tensions. The initiatives included creating a paid staff position within City Hall to serve as a liaison between the city and residents and requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the Sanford Police Department for possible civil rights violations.
In recent years, Sanford has tried to improve Goldsboro as well. Four years ago, the Westside Community and Recreation Center on South Persimmon Avenue was expanded and renovated as part of a $2.35 million improvement project.
The city also enhanced the Goldsboro Trail, a pedestrian pathway that stretches more than a mile through the community. Current plans are to lengthen the trail to the city’s Coastline Park on West Ninth Street.
Finally, Sanford built its new, 75,000-square-foot public safety complex in Goldsboro in late 2010.
Lots of hope
Herbert Cherry, 92, is a lifelong resident of Sanford and has lived in Goldsboro for the past 50 years. He has been a real estate broker and a general contractor and has held a variety of odd jobs through the years.
With the addition of the new police station in the community, and city leaders recently changing the name of 13th Street to Historic Goldsboro Boulevard, it shows that Sanford is making strides to improve the historic community, he said.
“We’ve come a long way,” Cherry said. “Things have changed in recent years — a lot of it for the better.”
Oscar Redden agrees.
“Sanford is not a town of nasty White folks or nasty Black folks. And Goldsboro is not a horrible place to live,” Redden said. “This community has a glorious history. So let us together — Black and White — rebuild this community. I’ve got a lot of hope for Goldsboro.”
The Rev. Valarie Houston, pastor of Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, sees hope, too.
“I firmly believe that we have to educate our youth — and even those not just in Sanford, but outside of Sanford, too — about the history of this community,” Houston said.
“And I think the Trayvon Martin shooting has helped make people more aware about that history,” she said. “It has highlighted this community that for so long many felt was neglected.”