A state board has narrowed the field to three in a bid to replace a statue of confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith in Washington D.C. The state Legislature will now choose among a grocer, an environmentalist, and an educator.
The Great Floridians Committee has nominated Mary McLeod Bethune, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and George Washington Jenkins as potential replacements in Washington D.C.’s Statuary Hall. Bethune founded the university that bears her name and was an active figure in national politics. Douglas was a prolific author and environmentalist closely linked with the Everglades. Jenkins founded the Publix grocery store chain, but Publix spokesman Dwaine Stevens says giving back was always a big part of his business.
“He always had an affinity for children’s organizations like scouting—girl scouts, boy scouts, YMCA—those types of organizations were close to his heart,” Stevens says.
In 2014, Publix charities was responsible for almost forty million dollars in charitable giving.
The second nominee, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, is probably best known for her book The Everglades: River of Grass.
“She was a remarkably prescient writer in the 1940s who recognized that our big challenge of the future is our relationship with the natural world,” Douglas biographer Jack Davis says.
Davis is a historian at the University of Florida. He explains at 79, Douglas helped found The Friends of the Everglades and remained president of the organization until she turned 100. In 1993 Douglas was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But Davis says she should also be recognized for her work in the women’s suffrage movement. He recounts how Douglas briefly took charge of the Miami Herald when her father—the editor—took a month-long leave of absence.
“The Miami Herald supported women’s suffrage,” he says, “and so there were frequently articles in the Miami Herald, but they were usually on the second or third page.”
“But when Marjory Stoneman Douglas was interim editor for that month the articles on women’s suffrage suddenly moved to the front page.”
Mary McLeod Bethune rounds out the three finalists. The educator and civil rights activist dominated a public survey and was the only figure unanimously selected by the committee. Bethune’s resume is long, and some committee members say she still doesn’t get enough recognition for her accomplishments.
Bethune advised presidents Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt, and Truman. As part of the National Youth Administration, she was the first African American woman to head a federal agency, and in the 1940s she participated in the establishment of the United Nations.
Ashley Robertson teaches History at Bethune Cookman University and curates a museum at Bethune’s former home.
“I mean when you look at the United States Capitol where this statue is going to be housed,” she says, “the Capitol was built by slaves, so it’s going to be awesome to have a woman who was the daughter of enslaved parents—her brothers and sisters were enslaved. It’s only right that she should be placed inside the Capitol with this great statue.”
Next year the state Legislature will select which of the three will replace confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith in Statuary Hall.