Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FL's Confederate Gen Out of Capitol Rotunda
The Replacement, How About the "Florida Man?"

OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE — Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith is getting evicted from Statuary Hall.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans are not happy. Sen. Don Gaetz, a native of that little-known Old South state of North Dakota, is not happy: “There is nothing in the bill analysis, nothing in the testimony, that tells us any reason why General Smith ought to be gone,” lamented Gaetz. “Was he indicted? Did he commit some heinous act?”

Well, there was that armed insurrection against the United States government – you know, the Civil War? And while Kirby Smith was born in St. Augustine, he left Florida at the age of 12, never to return.

Furl the flag, boys: the South ain’t fixing to rise again. You’re getting it confused with sea levels. But Floridians can at least choose a worthy successor to a fellow whose claim to fame is fleeing to Cuba to avoid charges of treason.

But who? Who shall be deemed fit to stand next to Dr. John Gorrie, the blessed Father of Air Conditioning?

What about a bronze reminiscent of Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais,” depicting that group of climate scientists who braved the lethal ADD chatter of Rick Scott trying to explain that Miami will disappear off the map if we don’t do something about CO2?

No? How about a manatee, then? We’ll need a reminder of what they looked like when the boating lobby, long oppressed by 5 mph no-wake zones impinging on their God-given right to roar around every Florida waterway at obnoxious speeds chopping up sea cows.

Or maybe some Florida Realism: a panther lying on the side of Alligator Alley, hit by some jerk driving an Escalade.

In marble, of course.

Suggestions for Gen. Kirby Smith’s replacement have been pouring (OK, trickling) in from all over the state. Eatonville writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, the Everglades’ guardian angel; educator Mary McLeod Bethune; Harry T. Moore, Florida’s greatest Civil Rights activist, murdered – probably by the Klan — in 1951.

Some would prefer to replace a dead white guy with another dead white guy, what with white guys – dead or alive — having it so tough these days. Polk County Tax Collector and former legislator Joe Tedder thinks it should be Gen. James A. Van Fleet.

Van Fleet was a hero in World War II and Korea. He collected art. Most importantly, he was a winning University of Florida football coach in the 1920s.

Unlike Florida, other states have gone for diversity. Hawaii has King Kamehameha I, complete with royal headdress and awe-inspiring thigh muscles. Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Wyoming chose Native Americans. Montana, Washington, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado chose women.

Even Alabama has a woman: Helen Keller. Two women, if you count Rosa Parks. She’s not actually one of the designated pair – Alabama’s other official Statuary Hall denizen is a Confederate general named “Fightin’ Joe” Wheeler – but there she is, Miss Rosa, sitting down, staring coolly across the way at Jefferson Davis of Mississippi.

Florida is no longer merely a Deep South backwater. No, Florida is now tripartite: part Midwestern annex, part extension of Lower Alabama, part northern colony of Cuba. I say let’s go with an image we can all embrace.

Of course, I mean Florida Man.

He’d be crafted in the finest plastic, wearing cargo shorts and a “Tell Your Boobs to Stop Staring at My Eyes” T-shirt. In one hand, he clutches a meth pipe, in the other, a dead chicken. On his head perches a cap saying “Make America Great Again.”

Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Her new book is “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America."  Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Images added by the Observer: spread shirt

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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