Bid to remove Florida Confederate general from U.S. Capitol draws fire

Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue could be on the way out
Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue could be on the way out

A measure that would move the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith out of the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall collection continued to advance through legislative committees.

But the proposal drew its fiercest fire Wednesday in the Senate Rules Committee, which approved jettisoning Smith on a 10-3 vote, but with two former Senate presidents and a future chamber boss opposing it.

“I think, maybe, we can find someone who could represent our state better,” said Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, sponsor of the bill (CS/SB 310).

History shows Smith was born in St. Augustine, but  spent little time in Florida. He commanded the last army of the Confederate States to surrender — more than a month after General Robert E. Lee gave up in April 1865.

Smith’s companion in the Capitol hall is John Gorrie, a doctor and early pioneer of air-conditioning, which has proved so vital to Florida’s development.

Gorrie looks secure. But the advancing legislation would authorize a panel within the Florida Department of State to choose another Floridian from history to be commemorated with a statue in the Capitol.

The push to remove Smith follows the Florida Senate’s rules change last fall that removed the Confederate flag from its official seal.

But Smith’s removal seems to gain added controversy with every committee stop.

On Wednesday, former Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Tom Lee, R-Brandon, both former Senate presidents, voted against the change, joined by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, who is in line to become Senate president in November.

Gaetz said Legg failed to explicitly lay out why Smith’s statue should be taken down.

“Maybe there are good reasons to take him out,” Gaetz said. “But we haven’t heard it.”

A handful of citizens, including representatives of the Museum of the South in Jacksonville, also came to Smith’s defense.

“I very much appreciate Kirby Smith and his contribution to Florida history,” said Mary Ellen Gwynes, an education specialist with the museum. “When his state left the union, he left the union, too.”

Florida and many other southern states have been looking to shed Confederate images since South Carolina removed a Confederate flag from its Capitol following the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charlestown.

The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, is accused of maintaining a website that contained images of white supremacy and photos of the Confederate battle flag.



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