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As Confederate monuments fall, a Florida community to vote on putting one up

by Reuters
Tuesday, 7 July 2020 10:00 GMT

By Rich McKay

July 7 (Reuters) - As Confederate Civil War monuments fall across the United States, one central Florida community with a racist past will vote on plans to put up a statue of a Confederate general who lived in the Sunshine State briefly as a child.

The 2019 decision to be the new home of the 9-foot-tall bronze statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith, now in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., is under review.

Lake County commissioners will vote on Tuesday whether to ask Florida's governor to find another place for it.

The commission's chair, Leslie Campione, did not respond to requests for comment, but sent Reuters a copy of a draft letter to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis saying the county no longer wants it because the general was not from Lake County and the decision had created "division and strife in our community."

DeSantis is an ally of President Donald Trump, who has said "mobs" are trying to erase history with efforts to remove or rethink monuments. Trump is campaigning to be re-elected in November.

The debate over Confederate monuments has been a long-simmering battle between those demanding the removal of symbols seen as pro-slavery from the public sphere, and those who believe monuments honor the tradition and history of the South.

Smith, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was born in coastal St. Augustine in St. Johns County, about 100 miles northeast of the Lake county seat, Tavares, but grew up in Tennessee.

His statue in the National Statuary Hall will be replaced by that of Florida African-American educator and civil rights pioneer Mary McCleod Bethune.

Reverend Mike Watkins, 60, who is Black, said putting the statue of Smith in the county court house calls attention to the building's racist past.

"That's where the jail was and where the 'Groveland Four' happened," he said, referring to four black youths wrongly accused of raping a woman in 1949. One was killed and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of the other three. (Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)

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