Florida has kept a relatively low profile when it comes to Confederate symbols in public places, except for one very public place — National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
One of the state’s statues honors Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.
Becker shareholder Yolanda Cash Jackson helped lead a campaign to replace his statue with one honoring civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune. She’s half of the pair recognized in the Bethune-Cookman University name.
Bethune’s backers scored a significant legislative victory in Tallahassee this year that culminated in Gov. Rick Scott signing a bill to add Bethune’s likeness to Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.
Florida becomes the first state to honor an African-American woman in the national hall.
The state Senate backed the proposal on a 37-0 vote in January, the state House voted 111-1 in February to support the replacement, and Scott signed the bill in March.
“I’m proud of our team, and I’m proud of our state for taking that step,” Becker managing shareholder Gary Rosen said. “It was the right thing to do and it’s gratifying when our lobbyists can champion such a wonderful cause and be in the forefront for such a positive step for our state.”
The process began over three years ago when then-state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz filed a bill to remove Smith’s statue. The Legislature agreed in 2016 as part of a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the shooting deaths of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.
Against that backdrop, Jackson and the Daytona Beach university began their campaign to place Bethune’s name on a special committee ballot to raise awareness of Bethune’s career.
Others were pressing for more internationally prominent entrepreneurs and entertainers.
Jackson’s lobbying efforts included forging a compromise with groups like the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy, which initially opposed the removal of Smith’s statue.