LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – Lake County commissioners said Tuesday it is going to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to find a new home for a statue of a Confederate general.
In a commission meeting, county leaders said they will draft a letter asking the governor to reopen the selection committee to find another venue for the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. In the past, the commission endorsed moving the statue to the Lake County Historical Society.
Lake County previously won a bid to acquire the statue of Smith. The statue of the Confederate general has been in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. It was set to become homeless in 2020 since Florida lawmakers requested that it be replaced with one of African American educator and civil rights advocate Mary McLeod Bethune.
The decision came as a surprise to Lake County residents. Reconsidering the acquisition of the Confederate statue wasn’t even on the agenda. The three county commissioners who originally voted in favor of the statue coming to this historic courthouse say the issue centered around censorship.
“When it was brought to us, it put us in a very uncomfortable situation of having to actually censor a museum, and tell a museum what elected officials think should and shouldn’t be in a museum," said Commissioner Leslie Campione.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Campione reopened the discussion over bringing the Smith statue to Lake County from DC. She said the ongoing debate has affected her life.
“This entire situation has created unnecessary strife and division in our community. I know it’s harmed some relationships I have with people in the black community. My prayer is that this harm isn’t irreparable, we can come together with one voice and make this request to the governor,” said Campione.
Campione proposed the board ask the state to find a new home for Smith’s statue, arguing he had no ties to Lake County and should be preserved in a more appropriate museum. While commissioner Timothy Sullivan also had a change of heart, commissioner Josh Blake said he refuses to censor the museum’s decision to acquire the statue.
“Under no circumstance will I sensor the museum’s decision. And I still refuse to do that," said Blake. “The move to sanitize history will be regretted for a long time once people realize the implications of it. I refuse to take part in the sanitation of history. I believe that if you remove the offensive parts of history, there’s very little left.”
Community members who attended the meeting say they feel their voices are being heard and look forward to positive conversation continuing into the future.
“I am humbled by the fact that there’s been a change made, and I think it’s going to bring our community together instead of divide us,” said Reverend Mike Watkins.
Lake County Commissioners have decided to create a resolution and send a letter to DeSantis, asking the state to reconsider the placement of the statue. That resolution will be brought up during the next commissioners meeting.