KEY WEST, Fla. — A sculpture remembering the island’s African-American soldiers who served in a Union regiment was unveiled and dedicated Tuesday.
Key West, southernmost city in the continental United States, was a Union outpost during America’s Civil War.
Called “The Forgotten Soldier” and standing in Key West’s Bayview Park, the large-scale bronze sculpture depicts a uniformed soldier holding a rifle, with one arm upraised. Its unveiling and dedication marked the 153rd anniversary of the date in 1863 when more than 120 African-American soldiers from Key West were instructed to report for duty.
“The unveiling of the sculpture is huge for the city because it tells a piece of the story of Key West’s involvement in the Civil War that had previously not been told,” said Key West City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who spearheaded the ceremony.
The event included an appearance by Civil War re-enactors, comments from historians and local officials, choir and band performances and a cannon blast.
A Civil War reenactor gave a “roll call” of the recently rediscovered names of the African-Americans from Key West, who served in the 2nd South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. Attendees placed yellow carnations at the base of the sculpture as the soldiers’ names were read.
“They were never recognized before — the fact that they came from a city that was in the far south but yet a Union outpost, and that they joined the Union army,” said Lopez.
Key West was the only southern city to remain loyal to the Union throughout the Civil War and was headquarters for the Navy Gulf Blockading Squadron against Confederate shipping. According to historians, Col. James Montgomery of Kansas came to Key West in February 1863 to recruit after being authorized to raise a regiment of troops consisting entirely of free blacks and former refugee slaves.
“The Forgotten Soldier” sculpture, commissioned and donated by Key West businessman Ed Knight, stands among other veterans’ memorials including one to Confederate soldiers and sailors.
February is Black History Month in America and Canada.