Legislature votes to replace Confederate general’s statue

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Photo: Architect of the Capitol

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – The Florida Legislature has sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill to replace the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith as one of the state’s two contributions to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

The House approved the bill Wednesday 83-32 despite objections from members and citizens who have called it an attempt to erase Southern history and heritage.

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he expects to sign the bill into law, although he needs to review its provisions first.

Backers have denied the bill arose from the June mass shooting at a black church in Charleston. The white male suspect in the attack had been photographed with the flag.

That shooting was followed by a wave of pushes to remove Confederate emblems from display on government property in the South.

On Tuesday, the House rejected an amendment from Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, to allow but not require replacing either Smith or Florida’s other statue, 19th century physician John Gorrie. Gorrie invented a cooling compressor to help treat yellow fever and is often called the father of air conditioning.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, argued that Smith was a man of principle who fought for the Confederacy over states’ rights rather than slavery but wasn’t truly a Floridian. He was born in St. Augustine to a family who had moved from Connecticut but left the state at age 12 to go to boarding school and West Point and never returned.

Diaz said Florida was a young state with a small population when Smith was chosen in 1922 and has since generated numerous distinguished individuals.

Smith is famous largely as the last Confederate officer to surrender a significant force at the end of the Civil War, nearly two months after Robert E. Lee’s April 9, 1865, surrender at Appomattox Court House, Va.

Diaz said he’s received hate email including racial slurs and veiled threats from opponents since he’s been handling the bill. One group even published his home address. He said he reported the threats and law officers investigated but found no basis for charges.

Wood said it was disrespectful to mandate removing Smith without a decision on who should replace him and said he hoped “to calm down parts of our society that might be upset with the removal of either or both of the statues.”

The bill doesn’t name a replacement but requires the state’s Great Floridians Committee to nominate three candidates to the Legislature and governor. Speculation among legislators has included Walt Disney, environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, business tycoon Henry Flagler, author Zora Neale Hurston, former Gov. LeRoy Collins and others.

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