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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Legislature votes to remove Confederate General from U.S. Capitol Building

Edmund Kirby Smith

Architect of the Capitol

Edmund Kirby Smith

24

February

A Confederate General's days of representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol Building are just about over.

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 on Wednesday, the Florida Legislature gave final approval to a bill that now goes to Gov. Rick Scott that would remove the statue and set up a commission to honor a different Floridian. Henry Flagler, entertainment pioneer Walt Disney or environmental legend Marjory Stoneman Douglas have all been suggested as potential replacements for Smith.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, has been accused of trying erase Southern history and said this week he's received threats on his life for proposing the bill. A group called the Sons of the Confederacy have organized rallies to oppose removing the statue.

But Diaz said he is not trying to remove the statue because Smith was in the confederacy. During a debate on the legislation a day earlier, Diaz pointed out that Smith, who was born in St. Augustine, left Florida at a young age in the 1830s before Florida was even a state. He said Florida simply needs to look at other important figures that might be better deserving to represent the state.

"We are certainly not trying to forget the history of Florida," Diaz said.

Smith, who lived much of his adult life in Tennessee, was one of the last major commanding officers in the Confederate Army to surrender during the Civil War. Smith, a Lieutenant General fighting in Texas, did not surrender until June 2, 1865 in Galveston – nearly two months after General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union Army in Virginia.

Florida is hardly the first state to take steps replace a statue of a Confederate soldier in Statuary Hall. In 2009, Alabama replaced Confederate Army Lt. General Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry with Alabama native Helen Keller.

Including Smith, there are eight Confederate soldiers or leaders on display in the U.S. Capitol, including Mississippi’s statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and Virginia’s statue of Robert E. Lee.

The legislation to remove Smith passed the House 83-32. The same bill passed the Senate on a 33-7 vote earlier this month.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 24, 2016 7:50pm]

    

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