Lake County politicians don’t want a statue of St Augustine Civil War General

Historic City News has learned that mayors from across Lake County want Governor DeSantis to prevent the statue of a Confederate general that has represented Florida in the nation’s capital for nearly a century from being displayed in their county.

The 9-foot bronze statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith has represented Florida in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol since the 1920s.  Smith was born in St. Augustine but had few ties to Florida as an adult.  Smith is being replaced by a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune, a move that lawmakers approved in 2018.

“The bitter irony is that the proposed location is a museum located in the same building where, 70 years ago, the Groveland Four had their lives and reputations ruined,” a letter from Mount Dora Mayor Nick Girone said. “The decision to move this statue was made by a small group who neither answers to, nor represents, the public. We eight mayors represent 146,165 residents.”

DeSantis and the state Cabinet in January gave long-sought posthumous pardons to four black men, known as the “Groveland Four,” who in 1949 were accused of raping a white woman in Lake County.  An appointed state panel considered proposals for relocating the Smith statue.  They backed a plan to move it to the Lake County Historical Society and Museum in Tavares last year.

Museum Curator Bob Grenier, who has played a key role in the effort to bring the Smith statue to the county, said in a published interview that relics allow the museum to fulfill its mission of preserving and educating the public, with the statue to be included among veteran and military artifacts.

“Our mission is to preserve history and relics so that future generations can learn from them,” Grenier told reporters in an interview. “There is no racial bias amongst the individuals running the museum.”

Daily Commercial in Leesburg

In addition to the mayor of Mount Dora, mayors of Tavares. Clermont, Eustis, Groveland, Leesburg, Mascotte, and Minneola are writing to DeSantis in protest of the transfer of the statue to Lake County.