Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Wants Civil Rights Statue to Replace Confederate General on Capitol Hill

Gov. Ron DeSantis, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith statue
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, AP Photo

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a request to the architect of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday asking for a statue of a Confederate general to be replaced with one of a civil rights leader.

DeSantis requested that a statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith be removed and replaced with one of Mary McLeod Bethune as one of the two statues sitting inside the U.S. Capitol representing the state of Florida.

“Florida is proud to commemorate the 144th anniversary of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s birthday by sending our state’s formal request to place her statue in National Statuary Hall, making her the first African American to have a state-commissioned statue,” DeSantis said in a statement.

Bethune had ties to Florida because she founded an institution in the state that would eventually become Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university serving the Daytona Beach area.

“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was an influential educator, leader and civil rights activist who became one of Florida’s and our nation’s most influential leaders,” the statement continued.

“Dr. McLeod Bethune’s statue will represent the best of who we are as Floridians to visitors from around the world in our nation’s capitol,” the statement said. “Her legacy endures and will continue to inspire future generations.”

Florida legislators came up with the bill to replace Smith with Bethune in 2016, and then-Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law in 2018.

The statue is expected to be finished and moved to the National Statuary Hall inside the U.S. Capitol by next year. The statue swap is part of a trend among lawmakers to remove monuments that feature Confederate generals.

In April, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed legislation calling for the removal of two figures from the Civil War-era, Arkansas attorney Uriah Milton Rose and former Arkansas Gov. James Paul Clarke. Rose sided with the Confederacy, and Clarke reportedly held racist beliefs.

But Hutchinson said that the statues would not be removed because of their past and added that it would be proper “to update the statues with representatives of our more recent history,” according to one of the governor’s weekly addresses.

Instead, Hutchinson’s law called for those statues to be replaced by a statue of music legend Johnny Cash and civil rights leader Daisy Lee Gatson Bates.

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