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With no legislative action, Confederate statue remains in U.S. Capitol

The General abides.

With lawmakers taking no action this year, a bronze statue of a Confederate general representing Florida shall remain indefinitely in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Two competing bills died this Legislative Session. One called for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Another proposed a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

“Next year, we expect movement in the House and we’ll pass it in the Senate,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the Bethune measure. “I am encouraged we will get it done next year.”

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, is unaffected.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

City workers this week started moving a Confederate statue called “Johnny Reb” from a park in the heart of downtown Orlando, to a nearby cemetery. And the Hillsborough County Commission is set to discuss the removal of a Confederate memorial that sits in front of the county’s courthouse.

The state Senate also recently removed a decades-old mural that had been outside the 5th floor press and public galleries that included a depiction of another Confederate general and flag. The Senate in 2015 voted to remove that flag from its official seal and insignia.

At the time, then-Senate President Andy Gardiner said the artwork was “beginning to show signs of age that must be addressed if the mural is to be preserved.” Parts of it were fading and peeling.

The removal was part of an almost-$5 million renovation of the Senate chamber, the first since the Capitol opened in 1978. The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” now is in storage at the Historic Capitol.

Additional material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Updated 4:45 p.m. — The Hillsborough County Commission on Wednesday voted 4-3 to keep the Confederate memorial in front of the courthouse in downtown Tampa.

Voting to move it: Al Higginbotham, Pat Kemp, Les Miller.

Voting to keep it where it is: Victor Crist, Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Stacy White.

Written By

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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