House committee votes to remove statue of Confederate general
More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, a Confederate soldier with a Florida history is on the run.
Since 1922, the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith has been on display in the U.S. Capitol Building as one of two figures meant to represent Florida in National Statuary Hall, a regular stop during tours of Washington, D.C. for school groups and other tourists.
But in the Florida House on Wednesday morning, lawmakers took the first step to shipping Smith’s statue out and replacing him with someone new, who the lead sponsor of the bill said can tell a new story about the state that can be celebrated. Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, said it is not clear who that new person will ultimately be, but suggested names like industrialist Henry Flagler, entertainment pioneer Walt Disney or environmental legend Marjory Stoneman Douglas as worthy potential replacements.
While a backlash against the Rebel flag and other symbols related to the Confederacy have been growing since a mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., Diaz emphasized repeatedly that that is not his motivation.
“Edmund Kirby Smith was a general in the Confederacy, but that is not why I’m filing this bill,” Diaz told the House Economic Development and Tourism Subcommittee moments before his bill passed unanimously.
His effort comes a month after the Florida Senate started removing the Confederate battle flag from its official seal on display in the State Capitol.
Seber Newsome III, a Jacksonville area resident, said he sees the effort to replace Smith’s statue as another knee-jerk reaction to the Charleston shooting.
“This is a blatant attempt to erase Southern history and heritage by taking advantage of a terrible situation,” Newsome told the committee just before it voted to remove the statue.
But Diaz responded by again saying his effort is not about removing Smith because he was in the Confederacy. Diaz said he’s been working on the issue since before the South Carolina shooting. He said he’s been questioning the statue’s presence in statutory hall since he toured the U.S. Capitol when he was in high school.
Smith, who was born in St. Augustine but spent most of his adult life in Tennessee, might not be the only statue hauled out of the Capitol. During questioning, both Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday questioned why not replace both statues Florida has there. John Gorrie is the other figure representing Florida. Gorrie, who died in 1855, was an inventor who is considered one of the pioneers of refrigeration. He moved to Apalachicola in North Florida in 1833.
Florida is far from the first state to try to replace it’s statues in Statuary Hall. Since 2000, 10 states have added new statues, including Kansas which added former President Dwight Eisenhower in 2003 and California which added Ronald Reagan in 2009.