Jackie Robinson in Sanford
On March 4, 1946, Jackie Robinson arrived in Sanford to practice with the Montreal Royals during spring training. Robinson had been signed to the minor league team by Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson and another African-American player, Johnny Wright, joined the team on a practice field near the present site of Sanford’s Memorial Stadium. Reporters from across the United States covered this practice session but no mention was made of it in the local newspaper.
While in Sanford, Robinson and Wright stayed at the home of D.C. Brock at 612 S. Sanford Avenue. This was during the years of segregation so the African American team members were not allowed to stay with the rest of the team.
Branch Rickey intended to break the color barrier in minor league baseball in Sanford but after the second day of practice he received word that a threat had been made against Robinson and Wright at the Brock home. Rickey immediately sent Robinson and Wright to Daytona Beach. It was in Daytona Beach on March 17, 1946 that Robinson took the field and made minor league history.
On April 7, the Montreal team returned to Sanford to play an exhibition game against the St. Paul Saints with Robinson in the lineup. Robinson played the first inning but at the top of the second inning, the Sanford police chief arrived at the field and ordered Robinson removed from the game. While the incident was not covered by The Sanford Herald, a headline on the sports page of the April 8, 1946 issue of The Gazette newspaper in Montreal stated “Robinson Quits Game in Florida at the Request of Police Chief.”
Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 and broke the color barrier in major league baseball on April 15, 1947. On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier, the mayor of Sanford issued a proclamation apologizing for the events that had occurred in 1946.
Sources: Blackout: The Untold Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Spring Training by Chris Lamb Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad The Sanford Herald, March 1946, April 1946 The Gazette, Montreal, April 8, 1946