It's doubtful that most Floridians had even heard of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, yet the state has officially honored him since 1922 by placing his likeness in the National Statuary Hall. Well, today the Florida House of Representatives voted to remove ol' Kirby from the place of honor by an 83-to-32 margin. The Senate had passed the same resolution last month in a 33-to-7 vote. The bill will now be passed on to Gov. Rick Scott's desk, though it passed with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
The move comes just months after the Florida Senate officially voted to remove the Confederate flag from its official seal.
The National Statuary Hall is a neat little feature in the U.S. Capitol in which each state got to select two of its most treasured citizens to be represented in statue form. In 1914, Florida first chose John Gorrie, a doctor who invented a precursor to modern-day air conditioning (which totally makes sense, because this state would be unlivable without it), and eight years later, they made their second choice in Smith. Both statues have stood there ever since despite the fact that states have been allowed to make replacements since 2003.
Opposition to Smith's statue has grown over the past year and basically comes down to four main arguments:
- He was a Confederate general, which is controversial for obvious reasons. (And, frankly, he's not even a particularly notable Confederate general.)
- The state should honor a woman along with a man.
- He may have been born in Florida, but he never actually lived here as an adult and made no direct contributions to the state's history.
- Florida has certainly changed a lot since 1922.
Arguments in the House mostly stuck to the third point. Though, Confederate heritage groups have lobbied strongly to keep Smith in the hall. According to the Associated Press, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (R-Miami), says he's received hate mail and death threats for sponsoring the legislation.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the woman who's work led to a re-understanding of the Everglades, has been mentioned as a possible replacement.
Photo courtesy of Florida Memory
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Still, the argument that Smith doesn't actually have much to do with Florida was a winning one, though Scott hasn't signaled his position on the matter. The guy is an Illinois native, and the bill passed with a veto-proof majority. It's unlikely Scott would cause the unneeded controversy in vetoing the bill, but you never know with him.
In any event, the removal of the Smith statue will set up a discussion of who should replace him. That hasn't been decided yet. Environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, railway tycoon Henry Flagler, and even Walt Disney have been mentioned as possible contenders.
Lawmakers believe that they'd easily find private funds to commission the new statute and that no Florida taxpayer money would be wasted in replacing it.