By Ron Kurtz
“Rather than espousing bitterness and blame regarding the behavior of those who came before us, why not take a moment out of a busy day and sit down on the bench beside David? Reflect on how, in the here and now, we can move forward through theses perilous days and find ways that we can create a more equitable America that better reflects our vision for the future.”
The statue of David Levy Yulee was placed at the historic train depot to recognize Yulee’s many worthy achievements. When Florida was a territory, Yulee fought for statehood, he was the first Jewish United States Senator, and he was the founder of the new town of Fernandina bringing the railroad to our city which expanded commercial activity throughout our community. All of these achievements are part of the historical record including the fact that Yulee used slave labor to build the railroad.
The authors of the opinion [June 23, 2020] piece have cherry-picked history in support of their prejudice. They imply that David Levy Yulee was a racist because he owned slaves. That places him firmly in the company of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Should we banish all statues of our Founding Families from public view and limit their location to museums solely on the basis of their ownership of slaves?
As for being placed in a museum setting, the writers have ignored the obvious. The statue is already in a museum setting. It is displayed within the Historic District. Right behind it in the Historic Depot is a museum display giving context to the man, his achievements, and the era in which he lived
Weaponizing history with loaded words to make a point about slavery is a double-edged sword. The writers are apparently unaware of the fact that Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley owned slaves. Her descendants have a mighty presence on Amelia Island: Abraham Lincoln Lewis and MaVynee Betsch, our own “Beach Lady,” among others. Anna was a slave due to the duplicity of her uncle who slaughtered part of his Senegalese family in a power struggle in Africa. He sold his niece to slavers and she ended up in the slave markets of Havana, Cuba, where she was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr. In addition to their extensive holdings off-island, they owned warehouses in Old Town. Does the fact that she owned slaves mandate that her story be accessed only in the archives of the Museum?
If the writers are intent on visually purifying the streets of Fernandina, perhaps their next target will be the cherished local icon, Pirate Pete, who resides next to the Statue of David Levy Yulee. Pirates trafficked in slavery, robbery, rape and pillage. Our moral guardians should have a field day with that one!
“Rather than espousing bitterness and blame regarding the behavior of those who came before us, why not take a moment out of a busy day and sit down on the bench beside David? Reflect on how, in the here and now, we can move forward through these perilous days and find ways that we can create a more equitable America that better reflects our vision for the future.”
Editor’s Note: Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., Ron’s early life was one of travel, having started school in Wurtzberg, Germany. A graduate of NYU, he attended Hiram College as well. Shortly after arriving on Amelia Island in 1994, he was appointed director of The Amelia Island Museum of History. As the author of adult and Childrens’ books, he lectures on regional history for the Roads Scholar Programs and has been actively involved in our local Theatres.