Florida park named after police chief who forced Jackie Robinson out of game gets new name

The police chief infamously known for ejecting baseball legend Jackie Robinson from a game in 1946 will have his name removed from a park in Sanford, Florida.

The Sanford City Commission voted unanimously on Monday to change the name of Roy G. Williams Park to Elliott Avenue Park.

Williams was Sanford's police chief from the 1920s through the 1960s. He ordered Robinson removed from a minor league game for violating racist Jim Crow polices by joining the field with white players on April 7, 1946.

Robinson — who would go on to break major league baseball's race barrier, becoming a Civil Rights pioneer and Hall-of-Famer — played for the Montreal Royals at the time. The Royals were the Triple-A International League affiliate of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team Robinson would make history with a year later.

Robinson and the Royals were playing an exhibition game in the then segregated city of Sanford, about 30 miles north of Orlando.

Robinson played the first inning of the spring training game, according to the city's website. At the top of the second, Williams walked onto the field and demanded that Robinson and another Black player, Johnny Wright, leave the game.

Montreal Royals baseball player Jackie Robinson holds his bat circa 1946. (Keystone / Getty Images)
Montreal Royals baseball player Jackie Robinson holds his bat circa 1946. (Keystone / Getty Images)

Despite the incident, Robinson went on to have an outstanding start with the Royals, leading the International League with a .349 batting average and .985 fielding percentage, according to The Associated Press. Robinson was eventually promoted to the Brooklyn Dodgers and played his first game for the team on Apr. 15, 1947 — making him the first Black player to compete in the major leagues.

During his career with the Dodgers, Robinson dealt with racism from both spectators and his teammates. People in the crowd would sometimes taunt him while his teammates objected to having an African American on their team, The AP reported. Robinson and his family would also receive threats.

One of the most notable incidents was when the manager and players of the Philadelphia Phillies shouted derogatory comments at Robinson from their dugout. Opposing teams often said they would not play against the Dodgers because a Black player was on the team.

Despite this, Robinson hit 12 home runs in his first year with the Dodgers and led the team to win the National League pennant, according to The AP. The team went on to win six pennants during Robinson's 10 years and in 1955 they won the World Series.

Robinson retired from baseball just two years later and became the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.

In honor of his legacy, the Dodgers retired Robinson's jersey number "42" in 1972, the same year he died at the age of 53 from heart problems and diabetes complications.

On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first Major League Baseball game, the City of Sanford publicly apologized over how the late athlete was treated during the 1946 game.

“It was a bad thing,” city commissioner Whitey Eckstein said at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We shouldn’t have done it. We need to make it right with the Jackie Robinson family.”

That same year, every team in the MLB retired the No. 42 in honor of Robinson.