Into America

Reconstructed: The Book of Trayvon

Episode Summary

How Trayvon Martin’s death one decade ago fits into the legacy of Reconstruction; and how the movement built in his memory echoes the century-old fight to force America to make good on its promises of freedom.

Episode Notes

Trayvon Martin’s hoodie was never supposed to end up in an exhibit on Reconstruction at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. But then the 17-year-old boy was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, while carrying nothing but a cell phone, a pack of Skittles, and a can of iced tea. 

Kidada Williams, a history professor at Wayne State University tells Trymaine Lee that she sees a clear through line between Reconstruction and Trayvon Martin. 

“The way he was targeted for minding his own business, the way he was demonized, and in some cases blamed for his own [death] is very consistent with what happened during Reconstruction,” she explains.

Like Emmett Till before him, Trayvon’s story galvanized a people and changed a nation. Protests sprang up across the country as the story gained traction, helped in large part by Trymaine Lee’s reporting. A generation of young people became activists, and when the man who killed Trayvon was acquitted, arguing he acted in self-defense, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was born and became a rallying cry.

Without Trayvon, there would have been no groundwork for the uprisings in Ferguson after Michael Brown was killed, no global movement in place to fuel the protests for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. 

But when Trayvon became a face of the movement, it came with a cost — one that Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, knows too well. 

"I’m giving to society, but do society really understand what I've given up?” he asks. "We don't look to bury our kids. We don't look to eulogize them or try to define what their legacy is to be. And during that process, man, it just, it really tears you up.” 

For a transcript, please visit

Thoughts? Feedback? Story ideas? Write to us at

Further Listening: