Opinion: Preserve George Merrick’s Name & Legacy

By: Karelia Martinez Carbonell, president Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables

Merrick was “adored as a human being,” observed Arva Parks in her 2015 book. The late historian was Merrick’s greatest cheerleader.

HOW INSENSITIVE THAT ON THE 135TH ANNIVERSARY OF MERRICK’S BIRTH, the University of Miami decides to cancel George Edgar Merrick. It is a disservice to the man whose actions are contrary to the narrative being espoused.  

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.”

When examining history, one must accept the whole story, not pick and choose. One must balance history, not carve it or cancel it. Taking one quote and using it to describe a man’s whole life is unfair. The past should be discussed within a measured and relevant historical context. 

A comment in Gables Insider states, “Revisionist history strikes again. This is a dangerous trend we’re on and institutions of higher learning are sadly leading the charge. I’m black and I’m offended by these actions by UM.”

The University of Miami solely exists because of George E. Merrick. He not only donated the land but also committed to a $5 million personal donation. Others pledged but only Merrick made good on his promise. George Merrick served as Regent and Trustee of the University from its beginning to the time of his death in 1942.  The University of Miami must rightfully honor their founder George E. Merrick.  However, if the point is to disassociate the school with the Merrick name, then it must disassociate itself completely with Merrick. No name. No school. 

Amanda Rose, a University of Miami law student and member of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, created a petition against the decision and penned a letter to university leadership in opposition titled “Preserve George Merrick’s Name & Legacy.”


“There is a current phenomenon to rename and tear down our history and our founders’ legacies,” she wrote. “When I witnessed this manifest in my own community, I felt compelled to act.”

“More people need to stand up for what is right.” Katherine P.

 George E. Merrick was born June 3, 1886. This year marks the 135th anniversary of his birth.   He grew into the “modern man” of the 20th century—an entrepreneur and visionary; a millionaire who gave away most of his fortune before he lost the rest of it; a civic leader; a humanitarian. He was a patron of education and founded schools as part of his new planned city.

He was active in Coral Gables for less than a decade from 1920 to 1928 and look at what he accomplished—a city which will turn 100 in 2025.

George Merrick supported civil society and places of worship. The first church built in the city, the Coral Gables Congregational Church, was dedicated to his father, Solomon Merrick, who was a Congregational minister. George and his mother Althea were charter members. It was one of the first public buildings erected in Coral Gables and it continues to serve the city to this day.

He was an advocate of the working people. One of his first moves as postmaster was to give equal pay to women.  Arva Parks’ 2015 book, George Merrick, Son of the South Wind, is testament to her esteem for the man.  Her words help underscore Merrick’s true legacy including his affinity for the Bahamian laborers and his many works helping that community.  Also in her book, 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].”

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 1941, Merrick credits the Bahamians for “having a most distinct and important influence…and brought inspiration…and other valuable knowledge and experience” when building with natural resources such as coral rock and other tropical materials. Apart from the MacFarlane District, Merrick also developed Golden Gate for the Black community. Here he again donated land and his own money to build several Mediterranean-style buildings designed by his team of architects. The Ponce de Leon High School [today a middle school] was part of that development.

Two years after founding Coral Gables and funding the University of Miami, Merrick was decorated by King Alphonso of Spain with the honorary title of “Don of the Order of Isabella La Catolica” The Order is a Spanish civil order in which membership is granted in recognition of services that benefit the country. The Order is not open to Spaniards exclusively, and it has been used to award many foreigners.

Apart from the royal order title, George Merrick was a man of the people, a civil servant, and above all a good man.  Merrick died at 55. Indeed the good die young.


28 thoughts on “Opinion: Preserve George Merrick’s Name & Legacy


  2. Let’s get to the real issue here: without debating Merrick’s past, how many of you are willing to advance racial equality in the present? How many of you are willing to grasp the depth of systemic racism? How many of you are willing to publicly speak out against racism as you have spoke out in favor of a statue here?

  3. Just found another telling quote from Historian Arva Moore Parks’ book “George Merrick: Son of the South Wind.” “Many of the black Bahamians who worked with George during the Coral Gables Plantation* years continued as his construction workers. Their loyalty was unprecedented to the man who, as a boy and young man [aged 13 to 21], had worked side by side with them in the fields and later built a new subdivision for their families.” *The family called the farm a plantation, but there were never any slaves. In fact, the Merricks were well known for paying workers an above average wage and for being excellent, fair employers. The Merrick’s would often share stories and communal meals with the people they called “the Wayshowers”, for they had taught the Merrick’s—recently transplanted northerners—everything about clearing land and planting and growing in the tropics.

  4. It is amazing how our new Woke society is so quick to erase history. Learning institutions should be the last to do so but they seem to be the first to bow to any pressure. Find a new building or name a scholarship after someone worthy. Scholarships are the best way to change the course of someone’s history, not erasing history itself.

  5. The UM petition designers as well as the decision makers need only to have walked a few yards to get the full story on George Merrick. UM’s Richter Library (at the institution that touts its research rigor) has a wealth of material, which most likely includes his 1908 speech entitled “A Plea for the Weak.” The speech, in which he stood up for the exploited, garnered him the James Ronan medal for oratory, one of Rollins College’s highest honors. The man who built an entire city said many times over that he considered the University of Miami his most important legacy. I am profoundly disappointed in the actions taken by the Board of Trustees at an institution that I served for 11 years. One final reflection from a description of George Merrick’s funeral: “Postal workers acted as pall bearers, commissioners, planning board members, UM and Fairchild trustees served as honorary pall bearers. Thousands—black and white, rich and poor—filed into Plymouth Congregational and spilled onto the grounds.” And this from news coverage at the time, “His sincerity and simplicity of heart, his fairness and cooperation will live in the hearts of his co-workers as an everlasting monument” Oh, if those last few words were only true. George Merrick should be venerated at UM, not denigrated….or erased. It is appalling.

  6. Once again Mr. Tramont, who previously turned this into a Political issue by naming Lincoln and Trump (I still don’t get it???) now, with his comment ending in “I bet you’re white”, has turned it into a racial issue. Again, I can only say, how sad!

  7. Dear Mr. or Ms. or Mrs. Anonymous (i.e. the writer who concluded, without providing his/her/its name or any reasoning, that my comment was “condescending” and “asinine”):
    I bet you’re White!

  8. As with others have noted. I as a double University of Miami Alumnus (MBA ’87, BA ’82), will no longer be supporting the University at any level, until this type of hypocrisy and WOKE stupidity is stopped, and this decision is reversed. We can start by getting rid of left wing fools such as Donna Shalala who has sneaked her way back into the University as a professor of Health (who by the way has the Student Center named after her – ridiculous that her name should be front and center instead of George Merrick’s). Residents of Coral Gables and Miami in general should immediately march to the University and demand that he either resign or put the University’s history back to where it was.

  9. I salute Karelia Martinez Carbonell, for the refined and factual manner with which she states the unfair decision of the UM Board of Trustees, to remove the name of George Merrick.

    What is happening in the United States these days, is creating a bigger divide in our Country, by the daily narrative. I grew up in a housing project where whites and blacks, helped each other do better by working hard a not by complaining of the unfortunate realities of life.

    Today we have African American athletes who are immensely wealthy and yet they kneel when our National Anthem is played and our flag passes in front of them. Then we have thousands of African Americans, who are proudly serving our Country in the armed forces, without complaint and without enjoying the wealth of those in professional sports.

    It was the white voters who elected the first black President of the United States, there are innumerable examples of African Americans, who hold positions of importance in our Country, and the got them by working hard and not by complaining. Most African Americans are hard working people, and we are dishonoring them by responding to the demands of the mob. You don’t honor a person by dishonoring another one. We need to stand together for the betterment of our Country, and by together I mean blacks and whites. This is the greatest Country in the World. Let’s all make it better.

  10. It is sad when institutions of higher education join the mob and the cancel culture. An example of the deterioration of the culture. No matter how much effort is placed in rewriting history, the truth will prevail. Of this I am sure.

  11. This “woke” culture and anti white history has been tolerated long enough. History is history and if UM wants to turn its back on a City that has supported it and given it everything, then it is time we turn our back on them. 2 graduates in our home and neither will give you any financial support until this decision is reversed. Lets see where you will get your money now, since you have turned your backs on your biggest donors. This is not a treat, this is a promise.

  12. Am a 35 year resident of CG and am very disappointed with such decision. The word trustee has been broken and does not deserve that we the citizens trust this school bunch that have lost their reason to be and have broken their academic focus.
    On my side the only thing with in my power is that I will disregard the plan I had to send my seven children to UM. Hopefully others will do the same.
    Shame on you for putting a stain on the highly regarded University and the city beautiful.

  13. Just as Rabbi Herman so eloquently wrote about Rev Solomon Merrick’s life and the lame excuse used by UM to justify its actions by “obscur[ing] the facts of Solomon’s life-long commitment to abolition, and racial and gender equality- long ahead of his time,” so has the school obscured George Merrick’s progressive upbringing, his values and accomplishments.

    “While we recognize that George Merrick’s proposals as chair of the Dade County Planning Board perpetuated a wealth gap for Black residents and broad inequities in our community that persist to this day…” [Excerpt from the May 3rd email signed by UM Board Chair and President].
    Again, it must be emphasized that “Merrick’s proposals” were never implemented and thus the “wealth gap…and broad inequities” premise is rendered mute. However, the University of Miami has unjustly characterized its founder and brought disdain to his life and legacy. If one reads the full text of Merrick’s 1937 speech to the Miami Realty Board [this is the source where the now oft quoted infamous words reside], it is revealed that Merrick’s words were taken out of context. The school, by ignoring the full context of the speech, disregarded a duty of fairness and rigorous analysis. Yes, Merrick’s words [from 1937] were taken out of context solely to fit a specific narrative–that of systemic racism. How shameful that a well-respected academic “research” institution would jeopardize its prestigious reputation in order to embrace an ill-conceived narrative. To read George Merrick’s 1937 speech, please click on the link below and go specifically to page 13 [or page 11 in pamphlet]. https://digitalcollections.library.miami.edu/digital/collection/asc9999/id/13354

  14. I cannot believe what UM has done. History is history. I will be very brief. I find it despicable and this decision should be reversed.

  15. To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots.
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    It’s an universal law– intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.
    Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  16. Dear Mr. Trammont, I believe, with your comments and examples given, you have turned this around and made it a “Political’ issue rather than what it is: a “Historical” issue. History is History, whether we like it or not, erasing it will not change it. But, that is the new Woke Culture…I hope it works out for you… So sad!

  17. You can’t fix today’s racial problems by knocking down statues or renaming buildings! If it were not for George Merrick, UM would not exist.
    Let’s put things into context!

  18. As an alumni and a Coral Gables resident I’m truly disappointed with the University of Miami for even thinking about removing George Merrick’s name. Sad times we are living in…what’s next?

  19. University of Miami is a private entity. It can do whatever it wants with its property, however ill-advised one may view that decision. Coral Gables (where I’ve lived for 36 years and worked for 20 years) should stay out of it. Think of it this way: if Mar-a-Lago had a parking garage named after Abraham Lincoln, and someone told Trump that Lincoln freed the slaves, and Trump said, “Geez, I didn’t know that! I better take his name down or my base is really going to be angry with me!,” the city of Palm Beach couldn’t stop him, nor should it try to do so, even though many outside his base would view that decision as really stupid. And UM isn’t “canceling” George Merrick. It’s taking his name off of a garage. Nothing more. Like his statue at the front of City Hall, his name will still adorn all sorts of places in Coral Gables: a house on Coral Way, a shopping plaza, and even a pizza joint on Ponce de Leon. If any student is so offended by no longer being able to park their car in a garage that bears the name of a guy who once fought to relegate Blacks to the outskirts of town, go park on the street at one of the meters. Your money will go to Coral Gables which, thanks to the efforts of Vince Lago, successfully opposed the renaming of a part of South “Dixie” Highway after a Black woman who fought to free the slaves, thereby ensuring that honoring the Confederacy’s effort to maintain slavery will remain an integral part of the “City Beautiful.”

  20. Hopefully, this debate will raise awareness among the UM leadership and student body as to the complexities of this fraught issue, and the need to avoid the manipulation of history- taking individual statements and actions out of context, and holding George Merrick to a 2021 standard and sensibility that very few people a century ago – and as few today- would be able to live up to.
    What is missing in the conversation so far has been the recognition that there was one person in this story who more than exceeded that standard- George’s father, Rev. Solomon Merrick- for whom the original campus building is named. The Trustees letter explains their decision not to rename that landmark at the present time because “ individuals cannot be held responsible for the actions of their families…” This lame, grudging reasoning completely obscures the facts of Solomon’s life-long commitment to abolition, and racial and gender equality- long ahead of his time. He and his wife Althea were grounded in the progressive values of the United Brethren Church- a forerunner of today’s United Methodism. The UBC was 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 Solomon lead – in Gaines, NY and Duxbury, MA- before bringing his family to Coconut Grove and establishing their “Coral Gables” homestead – were founded as break-away activist anti-slavery congregations. At Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duxbury, Rev. Merrick constantly preached against racism, and inaugurated a popular lecture series by inviting students from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute to come to speak about the school and their own hopes as African American citizens. This was all in the 1880-90’s…when Reconstruction America was awash in Jim Crow/ KKK frenzy…and these were the values that George was raised with, and, for the most part, tried to uphold in his own life. If anything, UM should rededicate the Solomon G. Merrick Building with a full tribute to the man, and celebrate him as a worthy honoree and role model for today’s students.

  21. Shame on the Woke U of M! If they are so bothered by Mr. Merrick’s legacy , instead of removing his name , why don’t they return the land and money he donated to found the University. As a proud Alum and Coral Gables Resident, I am appalled at the current University administration and board. Instead of focusing on academic excellence, and our proud traditions, they chose to deface the Merrick legacy by this cowardly act of removing his name from buildings and streets on campus.

  22. As I read comments this morning from other members of the Coral Gables an extended community on the Absurd actions taken by the University of Miami Board of Trustees it gave me hope and confidence that overtime reason will prevail! One commenter put it very well “if it were not for George Merrick the University of Miami would simply not exist” and it’s time the Board of Trustees of UM understand this reality and reverse a misguided decision!

  23. This is a travesty, a terrible misstep on the part of UM’s Board of Trustees. George Merrick was a wonderful man in so many ways, including his enormous generosity in founding the university. Yes, he was also a product of his time in history, but I would stack up his moral and ethical standards and respect for his fellow men and women against any of today’s leaders, including those who lead UM today.

  24. Absolutely ridiculous to remove Merrick’s name. If it wasn’t for him Coral Gables wouldn’t have a university on that site. I believe George Merrick was extremely supportive to our black Bahamian community. The segregation of colored people was considered the norm in the past and although it is a disgrace for America it should not be blamed on just one man. George Merrick was not racist and should be recognized and honoured as the Founder of UM & friend to the Bahamians. For his legacy to be dismissed because a group of people think it is racial discrimination & “the trend of the 20’s” is utter nonsense.

  25. This latest misguided action by the U-Miami trustees is a really strong sign of “institutional drift” and loss of mission focus at the school. Renaming streets and buildings means superficial politics are more important than substantive academics and this will lead eventually to the death of the school. Unfortunately, most alumni can’t connect the dots and won’t realize until it’s too late that their diplomas, which they spent so much time and money on, are at risk. At this rate, I expect U-Miami to close its doors by 2050. Somewhere between 20-50 American colleges and universities will close this year due to trustee mismanagement. And the trend is accelerating. Similar to the death of newspapers like The Miami Herald.

  26. We have to fight to keep our history………..please. Enough is enough.

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