Mary McLeod Bethune statue to replace Confederate figure on Capitol Hill

Civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Mary McLeod Bethune, will soon make history.

She will be the first black person to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol in Washington, DC The Florida-commissioned statue of the famous educator will be placed permanently on the Capitol in February 2022, replacing the statue of ‘a Confederate general.

Standing 11 feet tall and weighing 6,000 pounds, the statue shows Bethune in a cap and dress to signify her dedication to education. It also features a stack of her own books stacked next to her. A smaller bronze version will also be placed in Riverfront Park near Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard.

The statue was created by Nilda Comas, a decorated sculptor who divides her time between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Pietrasanta, Italy. She will be the first Latina sculptor with a piece in the Capitol collection, according to NPR.

Mary McLeod Bethune statue on display at the News-Journal Center at Daytona State College in Florida.Courtesy Representative Kathy Castor

In 2016, then-Gov. Rick Scott has approved a move to remove the statue of Florida-born Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith from Statuary Hall. The bronze was retired in September and temporarily transported to a museum in Florida.

The Florida State Department’s division of arts and culture examined the names of more than 3,000 Floridians to replace this statue, narrowing it down to 130 potential subjects. He chose Bethune after receiving 1,233 votes in his favor to represent the state, according to Evolve Magazine, a Florida-based trade publication. The statue has been on temporary display at the News-Journal Center at Daytona State College until December 12 and will be shipped to Washington.

“Dr. Bethune embodies the best of the Sunshine State – Floridians and all Americans can be very proud to be represented by the great educator and civil rights icon,” said US Representative Kathy Castor, D-Fla. declaration.

Who was Mary McLeod Bethune?

Born in South Carolina in 1875, Bethune was one of 17 children. Her parents were once enslaved and the family picked cotton for a living. Nonetheless, Bethune was committed to her education. She eventually graduated from Scotia Seminary, a Presbyterian boarding school for black girls, in 1894.

Mary McLeod Bethune, circa 1920. Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

Then she went north to Chicago to study at the Moody Bible Institute, with the aim of doing missionary work in Africa. At the time, she was the only black student enrolled. There, she established Sunday schools in neglected Chicago neighborhoods, worked with prisoners in city jails, and helped the Pacific Garden Mission, which housed and fed hundreds of people every day.

When she sought an opportunity for missionary work in Africa, the Presbyterian Board of Missions rejected her request and instead sent her to Georgia, where she worked at a school for black girls. Soon after, she married Albert Bethune, and eventually the couple and their child moved to Florida. While teaching in Palatka, Florida, she learned about the poor living and education conditions of black residents of Daytona Beach.

Soon Bethune opened a school in Daytona with a commitment to providing black girls with a better quality education.

Bethune was resourceful. She created her own pencils using charred wood and elderberries for ink.

The school offered science, business and liberal arts classes, according to the National Women’s History Museum.

The school would later combine with the Cookman Institute, a male-only school, to form Bethune-Cookman, a coeducational high school, in 1923. After joining the United Methodist Church, the school became a college and is now a university. . However, Bethune’s plea didn’t end there. She has remained a tireless champion of African American women and girls.

Two years after the formation of Bethune-Cookman, she became president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. And in 1935, she founded the National Council of Black Women.

She was the only woman on President Franklin Roosevelt’s advisory board of Black rulers, which Bethune has dubbed the “Dark Cabinet”. Roosevelt appointed her to the National Youth Administration, a New Deal program, and she oversaw employment opportunities and skills training for young people across the country.

“If I have a legacy for my people, it is my philosophy to live and serve,” Bethune said in her final will, in which she explained how she expects her legacy to be love, hope and a “thirst for education”.

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