Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will soon sign a letter to federal authorities requesting that they approve Florida’s plan to replace a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in the nation’s Statuary Hall collection with a new statue of civil rights leader and educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
That’s according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa who visited DeSantis in the state Capitol last week.
Each state gets to display two statues in the nation’s capital. Florida chose statues of Dr. John Gorrie (who invented the precursor to the air conditioner) and Smith – a Confederate general born in Florida who was placed in the national collection nearly a century ago.
Momentum to remove the Smith statue began shortly after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black worshippers in a South Carolina church in 2015. The murders set off rallies and protests around the country with demands to remove Confederate monuments and flags from public spaces.
The Florida Legislature voted to remove the Smith statue from Washington, D.C. in 2016, and passed legislation last year to replace it with a statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, who is perhaps best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach. That school later merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, and later became known as Bethune-Cookman College. She will become the first African-American woman recognized at Statuary Hall.
Despite the fact that now-former Governor Rick Scott signed the bill authorizing the Bethune statue into law, he somehow failed to submit the letter to the office in charge of the statues – called the Architect of the Capitol.
“It was a strange thing,” Castor said last week in Tallahassee. “It’s just a ministerial step under the rules and regulations of the Architect of the Capitol to send a simple short letter that says the law has passed. And that was left undone.”
Sculptor Nilda Comas is slated to design the Bethune statue.
A spokesman for Scott told the Phoenix last week that the office was unaware of his failure to sign the letter authorizing the go-ahead for the statue, and said he would investigate.