Florida town faces scrutiny

Since the death of Trayvon Martin, some journalists have been exploring the racial past of his home town of Sanford, Fla., where he was killed.

The earliest substantive article of this sort appears to have been a Mother Jones magazine article. Then, as so often happens, other online sources harvested the Mother Jones research and recycled it into their own articles.

At the Newsweek site Daily Beast, some of the same material and quotes were used, plus a new piece of information. Newsweek reported that the town’s founder, Henry Sanford (1823-1891), was “a mine investor in Nevada.”

The University of Nevada Press has published a biography of Henry Sanford. Its author, University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Joseph Fry, said, “I found no evidence of Nevada investments in Sanford’s business records, which were quite extensive.” Newsweek gave no source for its information and did not say what companies or camps in Nevada, if any, were involved.

Many stories characterized Sanford as a racist, pointing to his support for sending U.S. born slaves “back” to Africa, an idea also advocated by Abraham Lincoln.

But the 1891 New York Times obituary of Sanford said he was a member of an Anti-Slavery Congress in Belgium.