Should we honor David Levy Yulee? – An opinion

By Shari Roan and John Findlay
June 23,2020

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.

For further information:

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

The Fernandina Observer also provided coverage of the statue’s creation and dedication in 2014:

About the statue


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Bob carter
Bob carter(@bobby)
3 years ago

This kind of white-guilt has no place in a free and open society. These respectful figures are recognition of people that dedicated their lives to protect your own rights. They followed the laws. This is our history, and wiping it out may make you feel like you did something honorable but it doesn’t change history.

would you visit Russia and remove their statues of their local notable persons?

no? Then why come here and comment on our founders?

whats next? Burning books?

please stop meddling in others business.

Bill Owen
Bill Owen (@guest_57992)
3 years ago

I am sick of the cancel culture that is pervading society today. What happens when every statue is removed, every city and military base renamed, every film pulled from distribution and more.. Does that erase the past? NO! And without these statues, where are the teachable moments? One of the most powerful symbols of hate and the evils man can do to his fellow man is the concentration camp at Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were exterminated. Yet nobody suggests it should be torn down and grassed over to remove the stain of the Holocaust. The philosopher George Santayana opined that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Own our history. Address it. Move on. Don’t try to hide it as though it did not exist. Leave the Yulee statue. Most tourists don’t even know his history anyway, and for those tourists or locals who do, if the subject of slavery comes up, address it.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
3 years ago

Where does the madness stop? George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and several other U.S. presidents including Ulysses S. Grant were also slave owners. Do we tear down the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial?Do we tear down Kingsley Plantation because Anna Kingsley, a black woman who was one of serveral “wives” of Jephaniah Kingsley, maintained slaves after she inherited the plantation from her husband? Use the history of these individuals to reinforce the immorality of slavery but also to acknowledge the positive things they did in their lives..

There are far more important issues to be dealt with in dealing with the disparity of the black community including education and parenting. Let’s focus our energies there.

TBrandl (@guest_57997)
3 years ago

Does this mean that we should also change the name of the town of Yulee? I’m not so in agreement with washing away history, good & bad. History is a constant reminder of what we’ve learned through the years and how to do better. We can’t change history, but we can certainly change our future, that’s what we should be focused on instead of trying to cover our our past….

Vince Cavallo
Vince Cavallo(@grandvin)
3 years ago

After reviewing the article I think the solution to what to do with our harbor has been solved. Since the harbor was purportedly used by the slave traders and since some have a desire to remove anything that brings to mind those evil times, we should simply remove the harbor right down to the silt. No more discussion of what it should look like, how much to reconstruct or redesign. We can even void the bonds which would remove a huge debt on the city. Next up, since Yulee was the moving force behind the railroad, we can pull up the tracks and dynamite the rail bridge off the island. Think of it, no statue (why we have one is somewhat of a mystery to me), no slave harbor, no railroad which was used for the confederate garrison at Ft Clinch to skedaddle out of town. Of course this is hyperbole on my part but as Dave Lott says in an earlier post, where does it end? Also consider is this painting over of some of our history worth the fight. If so, where do we stop. For instance, a good portion of the country was the result of colonists removing the native people. What do we do about that? The road to Hades is paved with good intentions, consider it.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
3 years ago

Every time we remove something – a statue, a flag, a memorial plaque, we also remove the opportunity to teach the WHOLE story that surrounds it. Let’s face up to ALL of the truth and learn from it instead of burying it or running from it. Yes, Yulee was a slave owner who profited from the ownership and servitude of the slaves he owned. But he also put Fernandina and Nassau County quite literally on the map. Without his contributions (the good, the bad and the just plain ugly) we would not be here to have this debate. What lessons can we learn from Mr. Yulee and all the others that we can put into practice right now that does not involve hiding from the truth of our past? While we are looking to rage against, destroy, remove, deface and hide the relics associated with past slavery in our country, not one word is being said about the horrors of human trafficking, the slavery of our present day and times. “Those who cannot remember the past…”

Stacy Hanna
Stacy Hanna (@guest_58001)
3 years ago

Why stop there? Let’s examine the history of everyone that has a statute, monument, street or city named after them. Fernandina was named for King Ferdinand VII. His four wives included a first cousin and two of his nieces. Here is what history has to say about him.

“He proved in many ways the basest king in Spanish history. Cowardly, selfish, grasping, suspicious, and vengeful, [he] seemed almost incapable of any perception of the commonwealth. He thought only in terms of his power and security and was unmoved by the enormous sacrifices of Spanish people to retain their independence and preserve his throne.”

Martin Luther King Jr. probably has more things in the United States named after him than any other person. It is well known that he had numerous extramarital affairs. He also characterized being gay as a problem that was culturally acquired and that seeing a psychiatrist could help one find a solution to that problem.

I’m sure that if we study other historical figures that we can find something offensive about every one of them.  Maybe it is best if we tear down every statute and monument and rename any public property that is named after a person.

Jack Dickens
Jack Dickens (@guest_58004)
3 years ago

He who is without sin should throw the first stone. We have evolved as a people and a nation. To destroy the past opens the door to repeat history. To forgive is Devine.

Ben Martin
Ben Martin(@ben-martin)
3 years ago

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right. – George Orwell 1984

Jake Wynn
Jake Wynn (@guest_58010)
3 years ago

Your opinion is all about symbolism vs substance. No substance just symbolism. It’s hard to believe our citizens are oppressed by a statute of a man who publicly severed this area.

Tom Smith
Tom Smith(@tom-s)
3 years ago

I would not remove any statues. Why fall into the trap of hiding or rewriting history. We are not a racist city or country for that matter. Symbolic gestures or comments from political motivated individuals serve no useful purpose to promote goodwill among decent folks.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
3 years ago

One of my concerns is that these statues and monuments and naming of cities and towns and parks are overwhelmingly white and never mention the slavery aspect of the times. Many of them are attempts to rewrite the history in terms of The Lost Cause or Redeemer narratives, which glorified the pre-Civil War era and white supremacy. Most of these monuments belong in a museum, not out in the public square, especially if there is no balance to tell the story of blacks.

Hal C. Whitley
Hal C. Whitley (@guest_58029)
3 years ago

Would somebody please tell these history revisionist Marxist folks to please go back to wherever they came from. What little southern charm Fernandina still has is being destroyed by folks just like this. God bless our dumbed down country.

Janice knocke
Janice knocke (@guest_58042)
3 years ago

The answer is ‘No’. He’s part of our towns history. Leave the statue for kids to sit on and tourists to take pictures around. If someone has a problem with the statue…. they can just keep their distance from it. That way It won’t hurt anyone. Seriously.

John Brooks
John Brooks (@guest_58044)
3 years ago

You all are welcome to move back to the towns you came from. Leave this one alone.

Terry Jones
Terry Jones(@tjjonez39gmail-com)
3 years ago

there r many things in HISTORY that r ‘wrong’ but u cannot paint history out side of the context of the time———-MUHAMMAD ALI said ” i’m glad my father was a slave or i would not be here”—–does that make it right or r there many who have opportunities today as a result of that evil?

Frances W. Taber
Frances W. Taber (@guest_58060)
3 years ago

As a former resident and real estate business owner, for thirty-five years, of Fernandina and Amelia Island, I am writing in support of the reasonable and well stated opinion, written by Shari Roan and John Findlay, neither of whom do I personally know. Yes, David Levy Yulee was not only a slave owner but also a traitor to the United States. He commenced serving as US senator from Florida in 1845; and, by his peers in that revered chamber, he was given the nickname of “Florida Fire-Eater,” because of his inflammatory pro-slavery rhetoric. He resigned his office in 1861 and declared to be in support of the Confederacy. Following the Civil War, he was imprisoned for treason for nine months at Fort Pulaski, specifically for his having aided in the escape of Confederacy president, Jefferson Davis.

However, David Levy Yulee, also, has been called “Father of Florida Railroads,” in honor of his achievements for our state. And, yes, he was responsible for creating what historically has been known as “New Fernandina” – as a more convenient location for his cross-Florida railroad to originate.

In fairly balancing all of these factors, the logical and proper place to display his monument and factually to report his life story is at Amelia Island Museum of History – not at Amelia Island Welcome Center.

Shari Roan
Shari Roan (@guest_58073)
3 years ago
Frances W. Taber
Frances W. Taber (@guest_58077)
3 years ago
Reply to  Shari Roan

Yes. Definitely.

Jenean Lannon
Jenean Lannon (@guest_58079)
3 years ago

If someone hadn’t dug deep in the archives for this information, it would have been immaterial to his later accomplishments for our state & city. How long has the statue been up? How long was the discussion to erect? Has anyone not done something in their past that was wrong, ill timed, or changed their mind & opinion about an issue? The war ended in the mid 1860’s. Now years later it’s almost a hanging offense, a hide the other good things that were achieved moment? It hasn’t bothered anyone for years! Now, to try to appease a few, you’re willing to remove a significant person’s involvement in our city’s development, the important parts of our state’s getting railroads? I’m against removing any statues, changing names of school & arenas, cities, parks? History, however good or bad, teaches lessons that we all need to know so as not to repeat the bad or forget the good. Removing it just covers up the lessons learned & the sacrifices of all involved, why history not be repeated. The sentiment, “Lest we forget” is important, but “out of sight out of mind” should also be remembered to balance these issues. Don’t dismantle history to only show things that make some comfortable, the discomfort will remind us of how far we’ve come & hope to improve The Future.

Mary Jones
Mary Jones(@mary-jones)
3 years ago

David Yulee was a man to be honored and we are indebted to him for the seaport community so many have transplanted to in recent times. His placement at the location of the East Coast Terminus is exactly where his statue should stand. If not for Yulee, Fernandina would be a sleepy fishing village. He brought the railroad and built the tracks to the West Florida terminus in Micanopy. He expended a trade route to include the west coast. It was through his direction that the town of Fernandina was moved from Old Town to its present location. He was a leader, a prominent citizen and friend to our island.

Stop fixing yesterday! The only day you are promised is today. Go home and love your families. Read some history. Instead of a do-over of a time you have not known, create an acceptance of life in times gone by. Leave Florida’s First Senator alone.

Charles Lamp
Charles Lamp (@guest_58137)
3 years ago

Does history need to be Political? America needs to teach history fully and honestly to all peoples. Stop the hidding of history that shows the USA as it really was and is.

ELIZABETH JOHNSON (@guest_63673)
2 years ago


Mary Pikula
Mary Pikula (@guest_63682)
2 years ago

I agree. Stop judging earlier generations by our social standards today! Let the next generation learn our history and our leaders. Everyone of us has human failings.
If you feel so strongly about slavery help stop human and child trafficking. There’s mote slavery now than ever before.