Coral Gables continues to ignore city founder George Merrick’s racist history

The city of Coral Gables is about to honor it’s founder, George Merrick, by naming June 3 Founder’s Day. This item on Tuesday’s commission agenda is for a new yearly designation for a day that will likely be marked in the future by events and exhibits or essay contests.

But, as in other celebrations of the City Beautiful’s father, there’s no plan to include any mention of his segregationist past, a documented fact that caused the University of Miami to remove his name from a parking garage last year.

The graduate students and faculty members who requested that removal say it’s not enough. They researched Merrick in the wake of the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests and asked the UM leadership to wipe his name from the campus completely. A petition to remove Merrick’s name from all UM structures has 6,722 signatures. Some people even want to remove the statue of Merrick at City Hall — like the controversial statues of confederate generals throughout the American South.

City officials don’t want to touch the subject.

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Mayor Vince Lago told Ladra Monday that this was “an old story” and that the anti-Merrick angle was something that former Commissioner Pat Keon and her supporters funded last year during the mayoral race to hurt him.

But the race has been over for more than a year and still nothing has been done. And Lago defends that.

“This has been discussed ad nauseum,” he said. “Just like a lot of things he’s done are good, some were bad. At the end of the day, we all have a past. You, me, we all have a history.”

Lago’s own history includes a vote against changing the name of U.S. 1 to Harriet Tubman last year. When he did, he noted that he was concerned about the ripple effect it could have on the name Merrick. He was also one of the parents who signed a sorta racist letter to his daughter’s private school, basically saying that diversity was anti-Catholic indoctrination.

No, really.

It’s true that Merrick’s past has been talked about a lot since a group of UM students graduate students conducted “an independent study of the university’s historical figures with a specific focus on the founder of Coral Gables, George Merrick, to determine their roles in the creation and perpetuation of discriminatory policies.”

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Among their findings was the fact that Merrick, as the head of the Miami-Dade Planning Board in the 1930s, advocated for all Black families to be pushed out of Miami’s city limits into “negro towns” in West Miami-Dade. It was called the Negro Resettlement Plan.

“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.’ This black removal, Merrick asserted, was a ‘most essential and fundamental’ for the achievement of Miami’s ambitious planning goals,” the students’ report says.

The Miami Herald editorial board wrote about it last year, urging the city to acknowledge the history not “whitewash” it.

“Faced with a national debate on what to do with such historic figures, the city’s administration whitewashed Merrick’s actions,” the editorial reads. “It is the city of Coral Gables’ responsibility to acknowledge Merrick not just for his vision but for all his actions.”

But has there been any action taken by the city to do that? Lago wouldn’t answer the question (read: no). Instead he went on a tirade and accused award-winning documentary filmmaker Billy Corben of being paid by Keon and Steve Bittel and the Democrat Party to tweet about him. He sounded a lot like Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo.

“You can destroy me all you want. Join the Miami Herald and the Billy Corbens of the world,” he said, sounding as paranoid as Crazy Joe.

He spoke over Ladra and wouldn’t answer the question, deflecting to other more “positive” things going on in Coral Gables. “After a year of work, I am acquiring a nice park entrance feature for the city on 37th Avenue, the most northern property in the Gables.”

Asked repeatedly to let the world know what the city had done or planned to do to recognize its founder’s whole history — because Ladra really thought that, at this point, there would be something — Lago eventually said he had to go and teach his daughter to ride a bike. At 8 p.m.

This, despite the fact that the phone call lasted 12 minutes and he had plenty of time to answer the question. Instead, he said “I love you” six times and hung up the phone.

Read related: Despite one stupid, preachy letter, Vince Lago deserves to be Coral Gables mayor

No, Vinnie. This was not Corbin’s idea or Pat Keon’s or Fidel Castro’s. This came from the university community. People like Miles Pendleton, president of the UM chapter of the NAACP, United Black Students President Landon Coles, Professor Roxane Pickens, director of American Studies Program and director of UM Libraries Learning Commons and Professor William Pestle, director of graduate students for the Department of Anthropology.

Are they all targeting you, Mayor Lago? How about the 6,700 plus people who signed the petition?

Ladra has nothing against Lago and, in fact, endorsed him in last year’s election. Though maybe that’s because the alternative was worse. But it’s an entirely legitimate question to ask if the city is going to do anything to acknowledge the racism in Merrick’s past. And it was wholly unnerving to hear the extreme paranoia and defensive deflecting from Lago.

Maybe someone can ask him at the meeting Tuesday?

The city commission meeting — where they will also discuss the dog park planned for the Salvadore Tennis Center and the new budget for Burger Bob’s remodel (it went down from almost $1 million to $550,000) — starts at 9 a.m. at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way, and can be watched on the city’s website.