Mary McLeod Bethune is leading candidate for statuary hall
A shorthanded four-member panel nominated three outstanding Floridians Wednesday to replace Confederate U.S. Army Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and be enshrined at the National Statuary Hall at the nation's capitol in Washington.
The finalists will be sent to the Legislature, which will make the final decision.
Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and pioneer civil rights activist who died in 1955, was the only unanimous choice. Publix Supermarkets founder George Jenkins got two votes, as did author and Everglades champion Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Bethune, for whome Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach is named, said this in her last will and testament: "Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice where no man's skin, color or religion is held against him."
Three members of the seven-member panel were absent and did not participate in the decision.
Stoneman Douglas is the only finalist who is a native Floridian.
"This was an incredibly difficult task for me," said Pat Gleason, a long-time special counsel in the attorney general's office, who proposed Bethune, Douglas and former Gov. LeRoy Collins, one of five individuals who got one vote each.
The other panel members were S.L. Frisbee IV, retired publisher of the Polk County Democrat newspaper; Maj. Gen. Michael Calhoun, the state adjutant general; and Tiffany Baker, director of the Florida Historic Capital Museum.
More than 3,500 people submitted 259 different names, but nearly half were declared ineligible for consideration for a variety of reasons, such as still being alive or fictional characters from TV, movies and literature.
Among the names that didn't make the cut: inventor Thomas Edison, former Gov. Lawton Chiles, Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, former Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie, former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Virginia Young, and musicians Count Basie, Ray Charles, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman and Ronnie Van Zant.