Governor requests Civil War statue be swapped with civil rights activist
The statue of a Confederate general that has represented Florida in the U.S. Capitol for nearly a century could soon be replaced with civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune.
On what would have been Mary McLeod Bethune’s 144th birthday, Governor Ron DeSantis formally requested a statue of the civil rights leader replace Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, who currently represents Florida in Statuary Hall.
“In 154 years of Statuary Hall, there has never been an African American to represent a state,” said Former State Representative Patrick Henry in 2018.
Henry sponsored legislation that same year that formally approved Bethune to replace Smith, who had represented Florida in D.C. for nearly 100 years.
There was still the question of what would become of the general. Towson Fraser was part of the committee tasked with picking a new home.
“We had three proposals, is my recollection,” said Fraser who sits on the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. "One of which was going to be in St. Augustine. One was actually a Jacksonville doctor who just wanted to put it in his home.”
The winning bidder was ultimately a Central Florida museum in Lake County.
“They made a real commitment to display the statue with the entire historical context,” said Fraser.
Despite the historical context included in the planned exhibit, there are some groups of Lake County residents who have protested the general’s move to their community. But Fraser said the museum was ultimately the best choice.
“Where it could be displayed and the entire story could be told. Not just stuck in a warehouse somewhere, or as some of the other proposals, put in someone's personal home,” said Fraser.
Bethune’s statue is currently being constructed in Italy by South Florida sculptor Nelda Comas. It’s expected to be completed in 2020.
The cost of constructing the new statue was paid for by Bethune-Cookman University, which raised $400,000 to foot the bill.
Moving expenses for the General will be covered by Lake County.