City Changes Park Name Over Grim Jackie Robinson Moment

Sanford, Florida, revisits dark moment in its history
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2020 8:48 AM CDT
City Changes Park Name Over Grim Jackie Robinson Moment
In this 1952 file photo, Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson poses. Forced from the field by the new coronavirus, Major League Baseball is moving its annual celebration of Jackie Robinson online.   (AP Photo/File)

A Florida park has been renamed so it no longer honors the police chief who threw Jackie Robinson out of a baseball game, USA Today reports. The city commission in Sanford, Fla., voted unanimously Monday to remove the "Roy Williams Park" sign, and by Tuesday it was gone. "We're not removing history," Sanford City Commissioner Patrick Austin tells the Orlando Sentinel. "But we don't want to glorify people whose views don’t match what good citizens know is right." As the story goes, Robinson was playing shortstop with the minor league Montreal Royals at a spring training game in Sanford in 1946—and had two hits over two innings—when Police Chief Williams stepped into the dugout and told Robinson to leave or the game would be canceled. Robinson left the ball field, which sits less than a mile from the park that bore Williams' name.

He ended up playing his first full professional game in Daytona Beach, where he debuted with the Royals on March 17, 1946—a fact that city hasn't forgotten. The ballpark there was named after Robinson in 1988, and the Daytona Tortugas wore Robinson's number (No. 9 at the time) on Jackie Robinson Day in 2017. "What Jackie Robinson and this ballpark means to the history of Daytona Beach and society in general, it's a powerful thing," Tortugas GM Jim Jaworski tells the Daytona Beach News-Journal. "To play a small part in that ... is pretty incredible." As for Sanford, the city said in 1997 that it owed the Robinson family a public apology, but Williams' name remained on the local park—which is now called Elliott Avenue Park. "They could name it Jackie Robinson Park," says a resident. "But the park is too small for that." (Read more Jackie Robinson stories.)

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