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Historical Reflections on Trayvon Martin Part 1

Restaurant Sign in Lancaster, Ohio 1936, National Archives Collection  
I am starting a news series that the slaying of Trayvon Martin, the 17 year old African American young man has inspired. At my age Martin, like fourteen year old Emmett Till, could have been my child. In a chapter in my book Hog and Hominy I used interviews to talk about the hardships black folks endured and the strategies they employed related to eating outside of their homes. Neighborhood Watch Captain George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in February of 2012 has the tall and lanky youngster sporting a hoodie on a rainy Sunday evening returned to the gated suburban community where he was staying in Sanford, Florida after purchasing a snack at a nearby convenience store. African Americans and others have a long historical memory of similar tragedies or close calls that have happened in and around grocery stores and restaurants. For example, in Greensboro, North Carolina, Barry’s Grill was one of the most popular places in the city’s African-American community. Betty Johnson of Attalla, Alabama, briefly attended the HBCU North Carolina A&T in the 1950s. Before the 1960 student sit-in movement at the Woolworth’s and S. H. Kress store lunch counters, fear of white violence dissuaded her and her classmates at A&T, and most likely Bennett College too (another HBCU in the city), from ever trying to enter white restaurants in downtown Greensboro. Instead, they enjoyed the fried chicken and pork chops available at black-owned Barry’s Grill. Before shooting him Zimmerman told a 911 operator that Martin looked “suspicious.” In 1950 most people would have found Martin trying to order a meal in white restaurants in downtown Greensboro no matter how he dressed or his build “suspicious.”

Historical Reflections on Trayvon Martin: Part 2

Stumping and Eating in Louisiana Part 3