Florida close to replacing Confederate statue in US Capitol
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection is on the cusp of receiving its first statue of an African-American woman.
The Florida Legislature has sent a bill to Gov. Rick Scott to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and replace it with Mary McLeod Bethune, who founded a school that eventually became historically black Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
The Florida House approved the bill on Tuesday 111-1. It was approved unanimously by the state Senate on Jan. 31. Scott is expected to sign it.
“As a body we have made progress over the past two years,” said Rep. Patrick Henry, a Democrat from Daytona Beach who sponsored the bill. “Her life is an example of when you refuse to accept failure as an option.”
Bethune’s statue will be the 10th representing a woman. A sculptor has been chosen by an independent committee but the earliest it could be done is 2020.
The Legislature voted two years ago to remove Smith’s statue over the objections of some who said it was an effort to erase Southern history. But bills choosing a replacement statue died last year.
Smith was the last Confederate officer to surrender a significant force at the end of the Civil War. That happened nearly two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia and formally ended the war on April 9, 1865.
In 1904, Bethune founded Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, which eventually became Bethune-Cookman.
“It’s an amazing day. It took a lot of effort but we are grateful to everyone who helped,” Bethune-Cookman interim president Hubert Grimes said.
Bethune was the only unanimous choice from an independent committee that gave the Legislature three finalists. The others were Publix supermarket chain founder George Washington Jenkins and Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote “The Everglades: River of Grass.” The Florida high school that was the scene of a shooting a week ago was named after Douglas.
Congress allows each state two statues in the Capitol. Florida’s other one is of John Gorrie, whose inventions led to modern-day air conditioning.
Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican, said he supports a statue of Bethune but not at the expense of Smith.
“I can’t be complicit with the Legislature removing the statue of a veteran. I didn’t vote for it in committee and I can’t vote for it on the floor,” he said.
The bill calls for Smith’s statute to be removed from the Capitol’s visitor center and brought back to Florida to be put on public display. That location has not been determined.