By Shari Roan and John Findlay
The past few weeks have demonstrated how deeply our country is impacted and scarred by persistent racism, even 56 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, and more than 150 years since Constitutional amendments ended slavery and provided rights to freed slaves. Many of us are giving thought to our own personal behavior and what we can do to help heal our county and better adhere to the American ideals of equality, fairness, justice and human dignity for all.
Perhaps we, as the citizens of Fernandina Beach, can start by making a symbolic, although powerful, statement against racism and discrimination by removing the statue of David Yulee that is prominently located at our downtown Welcome Center. The statue could be relocated to the museum for its historical value.
The statue of Yulee acknowledges his success in bringing rail service to Florida and his part in planning Fernandina Beach. If that were Yulee’s only distinction, perhaps a statue is warranted. However, a search of historical archives shows that Yulee – a U.S. senator for a decade – was a Confederate slave owner who adamantly supported secession and the continuation of slavery. The early railroads were built, in part, by slave labor. Yulee was imprisoned after the Civil War for treason but pardoned by Ulysses S. Grant.
Throughout the country in recent years, cities have removed monuments depicting individuals who are now understood to have inflicted great harm to specific ethnic groups. Virginia officials just announced the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond. Fernandina Beach would be wise to consider joining that trend. An examination of our collective conscience might reveal discomfort in honoring a man who, for much of his life, thought it was reasonable to own, profit from and control others as property. We should ask ourselves how our African American neighbors and visitors might feel about seeing a monument to a Confederate slave owner in the city.
Fernandina Beach was a teeming headquarters for slave trading in the early 1800s. We have work to do to address the sins embedded in our town’s unique history. We cannot expect change in our nation without making changes in ourselves and in our community.
Shari Roan is a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and is now a freelance writer living in Fernandina Beach. John Findlay, PhD, retired from Johnson & Johnson in 2007 and moved to beautiful Amelia Island in 2015.
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In 2014, the statue of David Levy Yulee at the train depot was dedicated.
Those interested in learning more about David Yulee may read an excellent biography written by Ron Kurtz in 2014 for the Fernandina Observer https://fernandinaobserver.com/general/david-levy-yulee-a-man-a-moment-in-time-a-monument/.
The Fernandina Observer also provided coverage of the statue’s creation and dedication in 2014: