Florida’s looking for help in replacing a Confederate

Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue is on the way out
Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue is on the way out

Henry Flagler? Zora Neale Hurston? Jim Morrison?

Floridians are being asked to submit names of deceased, famous natives or those known for living in the state and worthy of being honored with a statue at the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Under legislation approved this year, Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statue is set to be removed from the hall where it has stood for almost a century.

The public will have a chance to suggest a replacement for the Smith statue, to join one of air-conditioning pioneer John Gorrie as one of Florida’s two representatives at the Capitol.

An online survey from the Florida Department of State has been posted and will be up until June 10 to take recommendations, which also can be sent by mail.

These recommendations will go to a panel from the state’s Division of Historical Resources, set to hold its first meeting June 22. Three names will be sent to the 2017 Legislature, which makes the final selection.

There’s no shortage of famous dead Floridians.

But Smith is getting nudged aside as part of an effort in Florida and many other southern states to eliminate what some call outdated imagery that is racially divisive.

The Smith statue has been at the Capitol since 1922.

But while history shows Smith was born in St. Augustine, he 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.

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.

 

 

Is it time for Confederate general to go?

Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.
Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue at U.S. Capitol could be on way out.

Only weeks after the Florida Senate removed the Confederate flag from its official seal, the state House next week will begin work on what may be the Legislature’s next historical cleanup.

The Senate replaced the Confederate banner with a state flag through a simple rules change earlier this month.

But the bid to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection will take legislative approval from both the Senate and the House.

The House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee is set Wednesday to review legislation (HB 141) by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, that would set in motion removal of the Smith from the hall, where it’s stood since 1922.

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 Diaz’s bill, and a similar proposal still awaiting a Senate hearing, 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.

Removal of the Smith statue has been proposed occasionally going back at least 20 years.

But like the Senate’s seal change, the proposal has gained momentum since last summer, when South Carolina officials removed the Confederate flag from that state’s Capitol following the massacre of nine black churchgoers in downtown Charlestown.