The question of the day: Where do you put a statue of a Confederate general that has represented the state in the U.S. Capitol for years?
The answer: The Lake County Historical Museum.
The Statue Location Selection Committee decided on Thursday to allow the Tavares museum to take ownership and responsibility of the no-longer-wanted statue depicting Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith.
The move isn’t quite finalized, but the state’s work is done.
Now, the U.S. Architect of the Capitol must approve a state-backed request to move Smith’s sculpture to the museum. If cleared, it will head to the Joint Committee on the Library for final consideration.
Smith is one of two statues representing Florida in National Statuary Hall. The Legislature in 2016 approved a bill seeking to remove the Confederate general from the chamber inside the U.S. Capitol. It was decided in 2018 to replace his sculpture with that of the late civil-rights activist and education leader Mary McLeod Bethune. Smith won’t be replaced until the Bethune statue is ready.
The panel, led by Department of State Historical Resources Director Dr. Timothy Parsons, received three proposals from curators looking to bring the statue back to the Sunshine State. After hearing two interested parties make pitches, taking public comment and scoring each proposal based on viability, the panel overwhelmingly agreed that the Lake County Museum fits the bill.
Applicants vying for ownership of the Confederate general had to live in Florida. As well, they were required to demonstrate “ability and experience to maintain large public art in perpetuity,” provide historical context in the new display, and confirm that they had enough capital — approximately $10,000, according to state estimates — to move the statue.
In making his successful pitch, former Disney engineer and Lake County Historical Museum curator Bob Grenier suggested the Tavares location — just South of Ocala and northeast from Orlando — meant that tourists from surrounding areas would be incentivized to make a pit stop to see the Confederate general.
“We believe that this is a work of art that needs fair and easy accessibility for all Floridians,” Grenier said. The museum, he added, could “take advantage of all the tourists coming to Orlando.”
Grenier also promised permanency for the statue, along with security (he noted the museum is attached to the local sheriff’s office.)
“Security is 24/7,” Grenier said.
Steve Birtman, a member of the panel, asked Grenier how the statue would be contextualized “to tell the good and bad” of Smith.
“My job is to educate,” Grenier told the panel. He said the story of the general’s life would be told in its entirety, and it would be up to the museum-goers to determine what parts of it are “good or bad.”
One other applicant sought to bring the statue to St. Augustine, the birthplace of Smith, where it would sit outside on a patio of the Benet Store. The other applicant was not in attendance but had submitted a proposal offering his private residence as Smith’s new home.
Following the pitches, two Confederate apologists made a last-ditch effort to bring Smith to the Old Historic Capitol in Tallahassee or the current Capitol Rotunda. Those calls didn’t resonate with the panel as they ultimately voted unanimously in favor of Grenier’s plea.