Karelia Martinez Carbonell
Martinez Carbonell is the president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables
Simple Hypothesis: George Merrick was grounded in progressive values and humanitarian principles and academic research proves it.
A is for…analysis based on honest academia
- ACADEMIC ANALYSIS LACKING
The reference used to cancel Merrick was taken out of context. Words were removed and others inserted for added dramatic effect.Sadly, the university accepted the tweaked version: “In a speech to the Miami Realty Board in May of 1937 Merrick proposed a ‘complete slum clearance… effectively removing every negro family from the present city limits.’ [Trouble in Paradise: Race and Housing in Miami during the New Deal Era Raymond Mohl, Page 13]
The true version is that Merrick’s proposal sought to eliminate the “slums” and create a model town with the best tropical living conditions with large plots of land, tropical fruit trees, and houses “suitable” “attractive” and “above everything else, it is what [this]…self-respecting community” wants. Merrick was addressing the overcrowded and unsafe living conditions that the Black community faced in the “slums.” See the full proposal in its original context on page 11 of George Merrick’s 1937 address to the Miami Realty Board cited by Mohl.
Link to the full address is below.
2. ALWAYS FAIRNESS BEGETS FAIRNESS
Merrick also advocated for the improvement of the living conditions of Miami’s Black community. He advocated for their fair treatment; for their access to clean water; for their access to larger plots of land; for their right, to not just have functional homes, but to have artistically beautiful homes. Excerpt from Merrick’s 1937 address states: “Sadly …today this third of our present citizenry are effectively denied water access and water use. Now collectively, as well as individually, we cannot receive fairness, unless we give fairness. It is proposed—for Miami at least, that this unfair condition be remedied.” See the full proposal in its original context on page 10 of George Merrick’s 1937 address to the Miami Realty Board cited by Mohl.
Link to the full address is below.
3. ALTRUISM BENEFITS THE BAHAMIAN POPULATION
In 1925, Flora MacFarlane, one of the area’s first female homesteaders and a schoolteacher who taught Black and white children at the Peacock Inn, sold 20 acres to Merrick’s construction company. The purchase established a Coral Gables subdivision named after MacFarlane. [Today the MacFarlane District is one of a rare example of a black community to be nationally designated.] Many Bahamian immigrant laborers subsequently built homes there.St. Mary’s Baptist Church, the first and only African American church in Coral Gables, was built in 1927. In an article published in [Tequesta] 1941, Merrick credits the Bahamians for “having a most distinct and important influence…and brought inspiration…and other valuable knowledge and experience” [Parks, 2015] when building with natural resources such as coral rock and other tropical materials.
4. ACTION LEADS TO INTER-RACIAL EFFORT
Apart from the MacFarlane District, other actions to benefit the Black community included the Golden Gate development. Here Merrick again donated land and his own money to build several “attractive” buildings designed by his team of architects. The Ponce de Leon High School was part of that development. Also, when Nellie Powers,a Black woman in the community,decided to open a private school to educate Black children,Merrick, along with a biracial board, donated to the cause, Up until that point“ Miami had never seen such an inter-racial effort.” [Parks, 2015]
5. ADMIRATION BY THE BAHAMIANS
Dr. Dorothy Fields, historian and founder of the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex, credits Merrick for his admiration of the Bahamian community for their expertise and impact.“The developer of Coral Gables thought it important enough to record this. This is first-hand information. For him to say the impact and inspiration helped to make the area is significant.” Merrick revered the Bahamians for their valuable knowledge and artistic abilities in working with local natural resources and tropical materials.
Link to Dr. Field’s video below
6. AWARDING DEDICATION
Merrick honored the Bahamian settlers in a series of stories. Parks  mentions that “Many years later, Merrick would honor these Bahamians in a series of stories he entitled ‘Men of the Magical Isles’.” One line in the story highlights Merrick’s praise and admiration for them, when he writes, “Very few realize today how much our Bay country owes, in its very foundation, to the Bahamian [laborers].”
7. ALL LOYALTY
“Many of the black Bahamians who worked with George during the founding of Coral Gables continued for years as his construction workers. Their loyalty was unprecedented to the man who, growing up, had worked side by side with them in the fields and later built a new subdivision for their families.” [Parks, 2015] The Merrick family called the farm a plantation, but there were never any slaves. The Merrick’s would often share stories and communal meals with these workers for they had taught the Merrick’s all they knew about clearing land and planting and growing in the tropics.
8. ADVOCATE FOR THE WORKING
Merrick was an advocate of the working people. Parks  said that Merrick was “adored as a human being” by most, even the postmen who worked for him. They were his pallbearers at his funeral. One of his first moves as postmaster was to give equal pay to women. In fact, the Merrick’s were well known for paying workers an above average wage and for being excellent, fair employers.
9. ANTI-SLAVERY AND EQUALITY
Merrick’s parents, the Reverend Solomon and Althea Merrick, were abolitionists. The Reverend’s life-long commitment to abolition, racial and gender equality were progressive principles inculcated in his children, especially instilling these values in his oldest son George. Merrick’s parents were grounded in the progressive values of the United Brethren Church- one of the first American Protestant denominations to take a strong stand against slavery in the 1850’s, and actually excommunicated slaveholders from its ranks. Both churches that Rev. Solomon served – before bringing his family south and establishing their “Coral Gables” homestead – were founded as break-away, activist anti-slavery congregations. These were the values that George was raised with, and, for the most part, tried to uphold in his own life.
10. ACTIONABLE PRINCIPLES
Merrick lived during the “Jim Crow” laws. Segregation in Florida was the law of the land in 1937, mandated by the state constitution of 1885. Black and white residential areas were kept separate by law, and George Merrick had no choice but to follow the law. However, that is the point. George Merrick was a man of his time, and during his lifetime, he advocated for those he admired [whether Black or white] to the best of his ability within the norms of early 20th century society. He was grounded in progressive values and humanitarian principles. Merrick’s good name cannot be disputed as the above body of research proves and his legacy cannot be tainted.
Merrick was “adored as a human being” [Parks, 2015] not because he earned it but because he deserved it.
The quotes and observations cited above [with the exception of Merrick’s 1937 speech and Dr. Field’s video clip] are taken from the 2015 book George Merrick: Son of the South Wind by the late Arva Moore Parks whose full access to Merrick’s personal correspondence over a 10-year period made her the official Merrick biographer. Parks’ endeavors in the area of racial, ethnic, and gender relations is evidenced by the numerous and diverse awards she has received for her work including being honored by The Black Archives. The Arva Moore Parks Collection resides at the University of Miami and focuses heavily on George E. Merrick, Coral Gables, and other research topics used in her writings.
A is for…apotheosis
Merrick was “adored as a human being.” Arva Moore Parks