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Florida museum works to preserve Trayvon Martin memorial

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

This weekend marks 10 years since George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old Black boy. The killing sparked protests that would lead to the creation of Black Lives Matter and to the racial justice movement of today. NPR's Adrian Florido has the story of a woman in Sanford who's preserved many of the mementos from those early protests.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The morning after Trayvon Martin was killed, Francis Oliver was leaving a church where she and other Black leaders from Sanford had just met.

FRANCIS OLIVER: And one of the policemen pulled up to us and said, did y'all hear about the boy that got shot last night? And we said, no. What boy got shot? He said, another Black boy just got shot and killed, and the boy didn't have a gun. He didn't have a knife. All he had was a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

FLORIDO: In the days that followed, the protests calling for George Zimmerman's arrest started small in Sanford and then grew and grew. And at some point, Frances Oliver, who had recently founded a small Black history museum in town, realized that no one had yet put up a memorial to Trayvon Martin.

OLIVER: And I was talking with a fellow that would visit the museum named Archie Clark. Archie said, well, Miss Francis, I think that's a great idea. He said, I'll go buy the first flowers to put out there. So he went, and he bought two or three of those wreaths.

FLORIDO: Zimmerman had shot Martin inside a gated community called The Retreat at Twin Lakes. Oliver and Clark placed the flower wreaths just outside the gates.

OLIVER: And people were passing. They were blowing their horn and everything. And as they passed and left, they swung by Walmart and got flowers and all this kind of stuff. And before that day was up, we had flowers, footballs, drawings, pictures, lots of Skittles and iced tea.

FLORIDO: Each day, the memorial grew.

OLIVER: Well, after about a week, the city manager called me and said, Miss Oliver, you're going to have to take that memorial up. I said, why should I take the memorial up? He said, because the people who own Twin Lakes are complaining. I said, well, they've killed a boy, and now they don't want the flowers out there.

FLORIDO: She refused to clear the memorial. The next day, a city crew did.

OLIVER: Well, when they took that one up, we just did another one. They took up five.

FLORIDO: City workers delivered bins full of stuff to Oliver's little museum, the Goldsboro Museum, where she still has them today.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CREAKING)

FLORIDO: The first thing that greets you when you walk in is a big painting of Trayvon Martin.

OLIVER: (Laughter) Yep.

FLORIDO: And beside that painting, a display of some of those mementos from Trayvon Martin's memorial - binders full of letters and notes left by mourners, drawings of Trayvon and the signs and T-shirts bearing the protest slogans that in the decades since have become the lexicon of the movement for racial justice.

OLIVER: No justice, no sleep.

FLORIDO: Not no justice, no peace - no justice, no sleep.

OLIVER: No sleep. Like I say, if you're a mother, how can you sleep?

FLORIDO: She unfurls paper banners signed by hundreds of high school students at the time.

What does this one say?

OLIVER: We all are Trayvon Martin. The whole damn system is guilty.

FLORIDO: Why is it so important for you to have all this stuff?

OLIVER: Thirty, 40, 50 years from now, this stuff will be preserved. The legacy of Trayvon Martin is going to be like the legacy of Emmett Till. Trayvon Martin name going to still be on T-shirts, on posters, in rallies.

FLORIDO: George Zimmerman, claiming self-defense, was acquitted in Trayvon Martin's killing. Within days, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was born. A decade of calls for racial justice have followed - Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd right up to this week's hate crimes convictions for the killers of Ahmaud Arbery. Prosecutors in that courtroom spoke Trayvon Martin's name.

PASHA BAKER: His legacy is definitely more than Skittles and tea and the hoodie.

FLORIDO: This is Francis Oliver's niece, Pasha Baker. She recently took over day-to-day operations at the museum.

BAKER: Did he ignite a people? He started a movement. If that movement wasn't here, what would have happened? You know, you think about those things.

FLORIDO: It all started here in Sanford, she says, that history preserved in the signs and posters and drawings that her Aunt Francis had the foresight to save.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Sanford, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.