Florida Senate takes step to replace Confederate veteran's statue in U.S. Capitol
Edmund Kirby Smith’s days in the U.S. Capitol Building appear to be numbered.
A Florida Senate committee on Tuesday took another step in removing the statue of Smith, who is depicted in one of two statues representing Florida in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Smith’s claim to fame is having been born in St. Augustine and 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.
But as has been the case for weeks, sponsors of the legislation insisted their legislation is not a reaction to Smith being a Confederate soldier, but because Florida needs someone new and more representative of the state to be on display at the U.S. Capitol Building.
“The reality of it is, is that Kirby Smith had a very minimal impact on Florida,” state Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said.
Legg said as a high school history teacher, he would take students to the U.S. Capitol Building on trips and always thought Florida could have a better statue on display to demonstrate the state’s history.
“There’s so many people who had such an impact on Florida in the last 100 years,” Legg said.
But some who oppose removal of the statue think what Legg and others are promoting is political correctness gone overboard. Seber Newsome III, from the Jacksonville area, told senators that the bill was another attack on southern history and heritage. He said there has been a hysteria to erase the history of the Civil War ever since the shooting in Charleston, S.C. over the summer.
But Legg, who proclaimed himself a southern man during the discussion, responded by saying he’s wanted to remove that statue for years because it does not seem representative of Florida. He said Smith was born in Florida, but left when he turned 12. He lived most of his life outside of the state.
“He just did not shape Florida history,” Legg said.
Legg's bill passed by a 4-1 vote in the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee.
Legg’s bill has a long way to go still. It must clear two more Senate committees and the full Senate. A similar bill is progressing in the Florida House. The idea must pass both chambers and have the support of the governor in order to become law.
Under Legg’s bill, the Great Floridians Program within the Department of State would be responsible in coming up with a new Floridian to replace Smith at a later time. Already names like Walt Disney, Henry Flagler and Marjory Stoneman Douglas have been suggested as those better to represent Florida’s history.
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.