Mu­seum cu­ra­tor plans to add statue de­spite pub­lic out­cry

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Local - By Stephen Hu­dak Staff writer Staffers Jerry Fall­strom and Lau­ren Ritchie con­trib­uted to this re­port.

TAVARES — Af­ter hours of lis­ten­ing to speaker af­ter speaker de­nounce a plan to re­lo­cate a statue of a Florida-born Con­fed­er­ate gen­eral from the U.S. Capi­tol to the Lake County His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum, County Com­mis­sion Chair­man Tim Sul­li­van said he got the mes­sage.

“I don’t see how any­thing good comes out of this,” Sul­li­van said of the idea of Lake County as the new per­ma­nent home of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Ed­mund Kirby Smith’s statue.

Black and white res­i­dents alike im­plored the all-white com­mis­sion to stop the all­white mu­seum board from bring­ing the statue of the slave-own­ing gen­eral to Tavares, say­ing its pres­ence in Lake would harm race re­la­tions in a county once ruled by Wil­lis McCall, a no­to­ri­ously racist sev­en­term sher­iff.

But nei­ther the out­cry nor the com­mis­sion’s ap­par­ent change of heart swayed mu­seum cu­ra­tor Bobby Gre­nier, who said he still plans to add the bronze fig­ure to the small mu­seum’s col­lec­tion of war ar­ti­facts. “It’s his­tory,” he said.

Gre­nier, a Tavares City Coun­cil mem­ber who said he was sad­dened by the com­mu­nity re­sponse, de­clined to be in­ter­viewed at length but briefly an­swered a few ques­tions in his mu­seum of­fice seated at a desk that had be­longed to McCall.

The is­sue of the statue was not on the com­mis­sion’s Tues­day agenda and no bind­ing vote was taken, but 34 peo­ple rose to speak dur­ing a pub­lic-com­ment pe­riod that at times sounded like a church gath­er­ing with au­di­ence mem­bers re­spond­ing with ap­plause and amens.

A half-dozen speak­ers were clergy.

“If that [statue] is al­lowed, in my mind, I can imag­ine other things com­ing in that are called ‘his­tory.’ I can imag­ine some­one putting on a white sheet and a hood and dis­play­ing it and call­ing it ‘his­tory,’” said Tavares pas­tor Lil­lie Brown, who said the fig­ure evoked hurt­ful mem­o­ries of seg­re­ga­tion. “I stand rep­re­sent­ing our race ask­ing you, ‘Please, what­ever you can do, do not al­low that statue to en­ter in our county seat.’ ”

Be­fore the meet­ing, an­other pas­tor, Michael Watkins, warned of the gen­eral’s di­vi­sive mes­sage.

“When we wel­come in, cel­e­brate a statue of a per­son who was a Con­fed­er­ate soldier who fought to keep slav­ery … it kind of sends a mes­sage to us about white supremacy and keep­ing black peo­ple in their place,” Watkins said. “Why does Lake County want to wel­come that kind of thing with all the his­tory we’ve had here and in a build­ing owned by the tax­pay­ers?”

He told com­mis­sion­ers they ought to ter­mi­nate the lease agree­ment with the mu­seum if the pro­posal goes for­ward. “There are things you can do to change this,” he said.

The county’s agree­ment with the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety al­lows com­mis­sion­ers to ter­mi­nate the mu­seum lease at any time “with or with­out cause” with six months no­tice.

Lake County pro­vides the group with $18,000 in fund­ing, but the es­ti­mated $10,000 cost to trans­port the statue here will be funded by pri­vate do­na­tions, Greiner said. The Smith statue is sched­uled to be evicted in 2020 from its home since 1922 in the Na­tional Stat­u­ary Hall to make room for a statue of civil-rights leader and ed­u­ca­tor Mary McLeod Bethune.

The Florida Se­nate voted unan­i­mously in Jan­uary to re­place the gen­eral’s statue at the Capi­tol with a fig­ure of Bethune, an African-Amer­i­can woman who founded what is now Bethune-Cook­man Univer­sity in Day­tona Beach and who reg­is­tered blacks to vote dur­ing the era of Jim Crow laws, which en­forced racial seg­re­ga­tion in the post-Civil War South.

Gre­nier was thrilled when the mu­seum was picked June 28 in Tallahasse­e to serve as the new home for the Smith statue.

Af­ter the county won the statue, he said, “For us, it’s like get­ting King Tut.”

The mu­seum is lo­cated in the county’s his­toric court­house, also the home to the sher­iff ’s ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices.

He said the statue of the gen­eral will be dis­played in a room hon­or­ing war vet­er­ans.

Born in 1824 in St, Au­gus­tine, Smith died in 1893 and was the last sur­viv­ing full gen­eral of ei­ther army.

Gre­nier has said the statue is a piece of Amer­i­can his­tory and de­serves to be dis­played.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Ed­mund Kirby Smith could be moved from the U.S. Capi­tol to the Lake County His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum.

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