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Perry Thurston, others want Confederate statue issue resolved

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Former and current black lawmakers took to the Old Capitol steps Thursday to call for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general now in the U.S. Capitol.

Led by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and surrounded by alumni members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the group called for passage of Thurston’s bill (SCR 1360) that would formally approve Dr. Bethune to replace Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, will remain.

But Thurston’s bill has yet to have a hearing, and competing legislation calls for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

That’s despite the fact that Bethune, founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, was the top public choice to replace Smith in a poll conducted last year by the Department of State.

Bethune, who lived 1875-1955, received 1,233 votes. That was nearly 800 more than the No. 2 pick, James Weldon Johnson, a writer-activist and the first black admitted to The Florida Bar. Douglas came in fourth.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

A Periscope video of the news conference can be viewed below:

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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