Florida May Swap Statue of Confederate General for One of an Environmentalist

by | July 22, 2015

By Amy Driscoll

In the national collection of statues on display in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol, each state is allotted two spots to showcase its most worthy representatives. Some states have chosen towering figures in history -- Samuel Adams, father of the American revolution, represents Massachusetts -- while others have gone with folksy types like humorist Will Rogers, representing Oklahoma.

And then there's Florida. For its two picks, the Sunshine State chose John Gorrie, inventor of refrigeration and air conditioning, and Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general who surrendered the last military force of the Confederacy in Galveston, Texas.

As part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, Gorrie, carved from cool-looking marble, has been on exhibit since 1914. Smith, in bronze, has been in the place of honor since 1922, representing Florida for thousands of visitors a day who tour the Capitol.

A Miami Beach woman wants to change that. Lynette Long is proposing swapping out Smith's statue for one she finds a lot more fitting: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, champion of the Everglades. If the effort succeeds, it would make Douglas the 10th woman in the collection -- out of 100 statues representing the 50 states. Her statue would replace a Confederate general's likeness at a time when such symbols have come under increasing criticism.

Long, a psychologist who moved from Washington, D.C., to Miami Beach, has worked for years to see the contributions of notable women better represented on national monuments, street signs, currency -- and the statues in the U.S. Capitol.

"It's a passion project for me to see women of merit recognized," Long said. "Right now, there's more sensitivity to symbols and what they mean to our country. Edmund Kirby Smith is symbolic of a history that, publicly, we no longer identify with. There needs to be a replacement, that's for sure."

She's seeing progress in some areas, although changing the gender balance of statues in the Capitol has been a long road. The non-profit she began, EVE, for Equal Visibility Everywhere, has been working with the Kansas governor's office to help coordinate fundraising and logistics for a statue of pilot Amelia Earhart to replace one of politician John James Ingalls. The group also has been lobbying Maryland to send a statue of abolitionist Harriet Tubman to Washington.

For Florida, though she recognizes there are other worthy women, she thinks Marjory Stoneman Douglas is the perfect fit. "She lived her values. Environmental preservation is an issue of our time. She would be my first choice."

If Florida decided to swap out a statue -- Douglas for Smith -- it wouldn't be breaking new ground. Federal legislation was enacted in 2000 that allows changes. In 2009, for example, California replaced a statue of Thomas Starr King, a San Francisco minister and orator, with one of President Ronald Reagan. In 2011, Michigan changed a statue of Detroit mayor and United States Senator Zachariah Chandler for one of President Gerald Ford.

Long has tried to get the Marjory Stoneman Douglas effort off the ground in the past, pitching the idea to Florida lawmakers with little effect. Recent events, though, may have created opportunity. The U.S. Treasury Department announced in June that a woman's face will be featured on the $10 bill. South Carolina took down the Confederate flag from the state Capitol this month, in the wake of the race-related slaughter of nine people in Charleston.

And last month, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, called on Florida to replace Kirby Smith's statue.

"It has troubled me since I was elected to Congress that one of Florida's statues is an obscure Confederate war general who didn't live in Florida beyond his childhood.... Florida should seize the opportunity to place a statue in the U.S. Capitol of a great Floridian who represents the essence of the Sunshine State like [educator] Mary McLeod Bethune or Marjory Stoneman Douglas," she said in a statement.

That push may begin in Miami. Long plans to make her pitch to the Miami-Dade Commission for Women on Wednesday and, if the advisory group supports the idea, she hopes to gain new traction, eventually with the Legislature.

Mara Zapata, chairwoman of the women's commission, said the messages society sends especially to young women -- through currency, statues and other everyday symbolism -- is that men are the main drivers of the country. And, she says, that needs to change.

"I think this whole movement is bigger than just the statue piece. We live in a country where women have made such valuable contributions yet they are highlighted almost nowhere. We're embracing the fact that the time is here. Women contribute just as much as men do. The recognition needs to be there for generations coming up."

Florida isn't the only state struggling with representation by a Confederate leader. The imposing, seated statue of Alexander H. Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, remains in Statuary Hall representing Georgia -- although Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat from the state and a civil rights leader, has called for its removal. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee represents Virginia. Mississippi is represented by Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

But women remain scarce in the hundred-statue collection. Helen Keller is among the nine, representing Alabama since 2009 and replacing Confederate officer Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry. Esther Hobart Morris represents Wyoming for her work in women's suffrage. Educator and women's rights champion Maria Sanford is one of Minnesota's representatives.

Replacing a statue can take years. To make a change, a state's Legislature must approve a resolution and its governor must sign off before asking for federal approval. The main requirements: The person must have been dead for at least 10 years and have been associated with the state. It's up to the state to raise money and commission an artist.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava says the time is right to consider which symbols Florida wants to call its own. "Everyone is talking in our nation about the Confederate symbols -- there's a great awareness that they can be very hurtful to many. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, on the other hand, is someone who is known for people bringing people together around a common cause."

(c)2015 Miami Herald