TAVARES, Florida (Reuters) - Officials of a central Florida county voted on Tuesday to rescind a decision last year to give a new home to a Confederate statue being removed from a gallery in the U.S. Capitol, saying the reversal would “bring the community together.”
The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to ask the governor to find somewhere else to put a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith, who served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War of 1861-65.
Lake County is the site of the notorious “Groveland Four” convictions of a group of Black men wrongfully accused of raping a white woman in 1949, considered by many as a glaring example of racial injustice.
“This decision will bring our community together,” said Leslie Campione, the commission’s chair. “This is the right decision.”
The statue of Smith, a Ku Klux Klanman born in coastal St. Augustine, Florida, is being removed from the National Statuary Hall, housed in the U.S. Capitol. A statue of Mary McCleod Bethune, an African-American educator and civil rights pioneer from Florida, will replace it.
The office of Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed a pardon for the Groveland Four last year, had no immediate comment on the fate of the Smith statue.
Pressure to remove monuments honoring figures from the pro-slavery Confederacy has intensified since the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May. Numerous statues have come down in recent weeks, either toppled by protesters or by order of local or state officials.
Campione said the commission had heard from both sides of the issue before Tuesday’s vote, and she believed that those in favor of the statue were “pure in their motives” to collect and display historical artifacts.
Opponents of putting such statues on public display believe they pay homage to the South’s slavery legacy, while supporters say they honor tradition and history.
Reporting by Octavio Jones in Tavares, Florida, writing and additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bernadette Baum
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