A marble statue of educator and civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled Wednesday to represent Florida in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.
The likeness of Bethune will replace a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which stood in the Capitol for nearly a century. Bethune, who died in 1955, will be the first Black person to represent a state in the collection.
“Dr. Bethune’s story and legacy is one that resonates with so many Floridians and Americans, and countless generations of visitors will now learn about her life’s work as an educator, civil-rights leader and force for good,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said in a statement.
Bethune in 1904 founded what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and later served as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.
Funded by donations through the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project, the statue was crafted in Italy by sculptor Nilda Comas.
Florida lawmakers in 2016 voted to replace the Smith statue amid a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols that followed the 2015 shooting deaths of nine Black worshippers at a historic Black church in Charleston, S.C. The Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott approved the use of Bethune’s likeness in 2018.
The Smith statue was removed from the U.S. Capitol in September after representing Florida since 1922. The St. Augustine-born Smith commanded Confederate forces west of the Mississippi during the Civil War and spent his later years as a college professor in Tennessee.
The statue has gone to the state’s Museum of Florida History, but no plans have been announced to publicly display it.
Each state is represented by two statues in the National Statuary Hall. Florida’s other statue depicts John Gorrie, who is widely considered the father of air conditioning.
On Wednesday, July 13, Bethune-Cookman University invites alumni and friends of the university to join together for a watch party to celebrate the installation of the statue at Statuary Hall.
The on-campus event will highlight Dr. Bethune’s legacy and serve as a fundraising opportunity for the university to provide life-changing scholarships to current and prospective students, all while livestreaming the statue’s unveiling.
“We look forward to celebrating this milestone and are thrilled that Dr. Bethune’s legacy is being honored at the national level,” said Sherry Paramore, Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “Her statue’s installation at the Capitol marks a defining moment in history not just for our university, and not just for HBCUs, but for the African American community and this nation as a whole.”
B-CU’s free on-campus event will begin at 10:30 a.m. on the day of the installation at the Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center, located at 698 W. International Speedway Blvd. in Daytona Beach. Those interested in attending, either in-person or virtually, should register at BCUWatchParty.Eventbrite.com.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida