As we revisit our “Reconstructed” series, we’re closing out with the story of how the movement built in memory of Trayvon Martin is part of the ongoing fight to force America to make good on its promises of freedom.
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 the phrase “Black Lives Matter” became a rallying cry.
But when Trayvon became a face of the movement, it came with a cost — born largely by those closest to Trayvon, like his dad, Tracy Martin. "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.”
(Original release date: February 24, 2022)
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