Bill Filed to Remove Florida's Statue of Confederate General From Capitol Building

Bill Filed to Remove Florida's Statue of Confederate General From Capitol Building
Courtesy of U.S. Capitol

Each state gets to enshrine statues of two of its most notable historical residents in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Florida's choices, made all the way back in 1914 and 1922, respectively, are a guy who invented an early version of air conditioning and a Confederate general who barely lived in Florida, made no notable contributions to Florida's history or culture, and, frankly, isn't even that important among Confederate generals, even to people who love Confederate history. 

After discussion of the appropriateness of honoring Confederate symbols and leaders earlier this year, the drumbeat slowly began sounding to remove the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith from the hall and replace him with someone else — perhaps someone who most Floridians have actually heard of and, let's hope, someone without ties to the Confederacy. 

Now Republican lawmaker Jose Felix Diaz, a state house member from Miami, has filed legislation to remove Smith's likeness from the collection. In a body where bills written by Democratic lawmakers rarely receive any attention, this might actually go somewhere considering it's sponsored by a rising, young Republican star who chairs the Regulatory Affairs Committee. 

Swapping out statues isn't an uncommon practice. In 2003, Congress changed the laws and allowed states to remove and replace their statues. Florida was relatively unpopulated when its chose Smith in 1922, and much of the state's most interesting and relevant history has happened since then. Regardless of the Confederacy controversy, it only makes sense Florida might want to rethink its choices. 

We're an important state now, the third largest by population in the nation. We shouldn't be honoring some guy who moved out of Florida as a child and never returned. 

But who should replace Smith? Diaz's bill doesn't specify; it only instructs that he be replaced by another "prominent Florida citizen." 

Activists interested in equal representation have proposed he be replaced by a woman. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the conservationist and journalist who changed our perception of the Everglades, has been a frequent suggestion. Mary McLeod Bethune, an early civil rights activist dubbed "The First Lady of the Struggle," has also been suggested, though a sculpture of her likeness already stands in D.C.'s Lincoln Park. 

Though Florida was a member of the confederacy, many of our current residents trace their heritage to the North or outside the U.S. As a result, the state has had less controversy when divesting itself of its Confederate past. When Jeb Bush removed a Confederate flag from the state capitol building in the late '90s, it was met with only a small chorus of complaints and generally went unnoticed. 

As for John Gorrie, the air-conditioning pioneer, his spot is safe. Even if most don't know his name, no Floridian would disrespect the history of air conditioning in September. 


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