Daytona Beach News-Journal by Pat Rice
June 13, 2020
Maybe a lawsuit can be just the opportunity a county needs. Such a lawsuit recently landed on the Lake County Commission’s doorstep.
The lawsuit filed June 6 claims the county violated Florida’s Sunshine Law when commissioners, in a series of private one-on-one meetings with the curator of the county’s historical museum, apparently approved an effort to bring the statue of Confederate general Kirby Smith to the county. The curator used that approval to convince the state to let the museum have the statue.
Lake County Voices of Reason filed the lawsuit. The county has already responded that it lacks merit because the commissioners did not meet privately as a group about the statue.
Instead of fighting the lawsuit, the commissioners should reverse course and ask the state to send Smith’s statue somewhere else. That would help mend the scars the county’s racist past inflicted.
Smith was born in 1824 and spent part of his boyhood in St. Augustine before his folks sent him to Virginia for military school at age 12. He had a pretty good career in the U.S. military. A mixed race slave served as his valet. When Southern states seceded in 1861, Smith seceded with them.
The general eventually commanded all Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River. In June 1865, he was the last general to surrender his troops over to the Union. Then he fled to Cuba until his wife cleared the way for him to return to the United States. Smith spent the last years of his life teaching botany at the University of the South in Tennessee. He died in 1893.
Despite his thin connection to Florida, in 1922 the state Legislature decided that a statue to Smith should be placed in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. It was at the height of the Jim Crow era, when many Southern states were working hard to keep black people down.
Meanwhile, Lake County cultivated its own reputation for racism.