Florida officials to review planned installation of statue of Confederate general
Lake County, Fla., commissioners will take a vote Tuesday on whether to proceed with plans, first developed in 2019, to install a 9-foot statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.
The statue of Smith, who lived in Florida for a short time as a child, was scheduled to be moved to Lake County from the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. The commissioners will vote on whether to send Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) a letter rejecting the statue, noting that Smith was not from Lake County and the statue would lead to “division and strife in our community,” Reuters reported.
Smith, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War, grew up in Tennessee and was born about 100 miles from Tavares, Lake’s county seat, according to the news service. His statue in the Capitol is scheduled to be replaced with educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, who established a Daytona Beach school for Black girls in the early 1900s.
The Rev. Mike Watkins, a Black minister who has led lobbying against the statue’s installation, told Reuters it would be particularly inappropriate for Lake County given its racial history.
The county courthouse, where it would be installed, is “where the jail was and where the ‘Groveland Four’ happened,” he said, referencing three Black men and one teenage boy who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949. One of the four, Ernest Thomas, was killed trying to escape by a sheriff’s posse while the remaining three were convicted by an all-white jury.
While the Supreme Court eventually ordered the two adults, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, retried, Shepherd was killed in custody and Irvin was convicted by another all-white jury and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life in 1955 and he was paroled in 1968, but Irvin died a year later.
It remains unclear whether DeSantis would act on a potential recommendation not to install the statue. The governor is a close ally of President Trump, who has frequently spoken out against the removal of statues honoring Confederates, both through legal processes and by protesters who have toppled them.