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Key West Honors Black Union Soldiers

Nancy Klingener
City Commissioner Clayton Lopez next to the new statue honoring African-American Union soldiers who were recruited in Key West.

  For almost a century, Key West's Bayview Park has been home to memorials to both sides of the Civil War. A pavilion honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors was built in the 1920s. In the 1930s, the state of New York installed a memorial to Union soldiers of that state who died while stationed on the island.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
A plaque at the statue's base tells the story.

  Now the city is adding to that number with a statue depicting and honoring the African-American soldiers who were recruited to the Union Army from Key West.

Key West, despite its location in a Confederate state, stayed in Union hands throughout the war. It became a refuge for free blacks and runaway slaves from the South.

Clayton Lopez is the only African-American on the seven-member Key West City Commission. He supported the recent restoration of the Confederate memorial. But he's especially pleased with the new statue.

"It's right in front of a Confederate memorial. That just shows the way that Key West thinks, with the full diversity of who we are," Lopez said.

In 1863, all African-American men between the ages of 15 and 50 were ordered to report for  medical examinations. Those who were deemed fit were deployed to South Carolina as part of the Union Army.

The names of those men have not been preserved as part of the historical record. Local historians say some returned to Key West and started families on the island. At least 18 of them were killed in the war.

"Everybody felt that this was something that needed to be done, to recognize our combined history," Lopez said.

A dedication of the new statue is scheduled for Feb. 16.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.