ABOVE: The Lake County-owned building is now slated to be the new home of the Confederate statue.
Last week, the Lake County Commission ignored the formal request of nine of its largest cities and voted 3-2 to endorse Lake County Historical Society’s controversial effort to relocate the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith into its museum inside a Lake County-owned building.
This Saturday, August 10, peaceful marchers from across Lake County will descend on Tavares, the county seat, to express their opposition during the “Unite for What’s Right”March. Tavares Police Department will be providing a secure environment for the diverse group of participants that will meet at 10 a.m. at St. John I.F.M. Church, 120 N. Bloxham Avenue in Tavares.
At 11 a.m. participants, including elected city officials, will walk approximately three blocks to the front of the Lake County Historical Museum at 317 W. Main Street where there will be speakers and music. Anyone who prefers not to march can come directly to the museum. Free parking is available in the garage across from the museum and on the street. The event is expected to conclude around noon. In June, the mayors of Lake County’s largest cities signed a letter to Governor Ron DeSantis asking him to block the museum’s efforts to obtain the statue of the last Confederate general to surrender. The letter, signed by the mayors of Leesburg, Clermont, Tavares, Mount Dora, Eustis, Groveland, Minneola and Mascotte, pointed out that the museum’s board was a small group of people that do not represent their communities.
“Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith had no connection to Lake County and his statues [sic] presence would create a negative and hurtful message in our community,” stated the letter. “Each of our communities have passed resolutions in opposition to the statue’s relocation.”
Three commissioners, Tim Sullivan, Leslie Campione and Josh Blake rejected the resolutions of the cities, passed by members of both political parties, and instead endorsed the effort of the historical society to bring the statue to Tavares. Commissioners Sean Parks and Wendy Breeden, supported the county’s nine largest communities and voted against the plan.
ABOVE: Pastor Mike Watkins (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
Pastor Mike Watkins, a Tavares resident and event organizer, emphasized the “Unite for What’s Right” march is a non-political event in which residents and city officials of all political parties will be standing together for what they believe is right--keeping the statue out of a Lake County-owned building.
“Tavares Police Department has been planning and working with other agencies to promote a safe environment for all participants,” said Tavares Police Chief Stoney Lubins.
Reportedly, the statue was not in high demand in Florida. Bob Grenier, Lake County Historical Society president, was the sole applicant that qualified for Smith’s statue. Grenier’s move pulled the band-aid off Lake County’s deep racial wounds caused by Sheriff Willis McCall’s well-documented racist reign.
It’s unclear whether Lake County Commission’s decision will have a negative economic impact which can follow controversial decisions as a result of tourism boycotts and companies that opt out of relocating to the area.
The statue isn’t expected to arrive in Lake County until 2020 and residents who oppose it vow to keep fighting, according to Watkins who said the commission’s decision has energized County residents.
The Smith statue’s home has been the U. S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, where each state is allowed to showcase two notable figures. In 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed legislation replacing the Smith statue with one of Mary MacLeod Bethune, an African-American educator and activist. The statue’s replacement required its return to Florida.
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