This is long overdue!
A statue of educational pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune will make history as the first state-commissioned statue made in the likeness of a Black woman on display in the U.S. Capitol, Essence reports.
Bethune was a pioneer in Black education, teaching Black children all over Florida, becoming an advocate and activist for educational and civil rights, and eventually founding the prestigious Bethune-Cookman University.
According to Florida Politics, congressional representatives Val Demings and Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida have been spearheading the charge to honor Bethune’s legacy and ensure that her place in America’s history is cemented in perpetuity. Last year, the two introduced a resolution to have a welcome ceremony for the new statue, which will ensure the bust of Bethune is on display in the Rotunda for six months prior to its permanent display in the National Statuary Hall.
“When Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was a child, she picked up a book. The other children, seeing that she was Black, told her, ‘put that down; you can’t read.’ That moment started a lifelong commitment to education and civil rights and launched an unparalleled legacy that lives on today. In her last will and testament, she wrote that she leaves us with hope, love, faith, responsibility to our young people, and a thirst for education. Education: the key to success in America. Therefore, it is more than fitting that she should be here in the ‘People’s House,'” Demings said.
“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is one of our district’s and Florida’s most influential leaders. Bethune knew education was the key to equality and a better life. Bethune was a servant leader who worked hard every day to provide opportunities to those in our community and our country who didn’t have a voice. Her example and legacy should make all Floridians proud,” Waltz added.
The statue will replace a bust of former confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith. In 2018, former Governor Rick Scott authorized Bethune’s statue to replace Smith’s after much scrutiny nationally regarding honoring those who were a part of the confederacy.
Demings issued a statement regarding Bethune and her legacy, saying, “Mary McLeod Bethune was the most powerful woman I can remember as a child. She has been an inspiration to me throughout my whole life. I am proud that she will be Florida’s new face in the U.S. Capitol, and know that her life will continue to inspire all Americans for years to come.”
Waltz echoed those sentiments saying, “Florida’s Sixth District is honored to have one of its most notable figures celebrated in the U.S. Capitol – and I’m looking forward to thousands of visitors in Washington learning more about Dr. Bethune and her servant leadership to America.”
Now, the marble statue has been unveiled, first in Daytona Beach, and is set to be on display in Bethune’s native of Florida for several months before heading to Washington, D.C.
Photo Courtesy of Essence
Bethune was a women’s rights advocate and served as an advisor to four U.S. presidents throughout her life, fighting for equality in health care and land rights. The statue is 11 feet and weighs more than 6,000 pounds; the marble is taken from the last and largest statuary marble from Michelangelo’s quarry in Italy. It depicts Bethune in a cap and gown with a pearl necklace, holding a black rose in one hand and a walking stick in the other hand. She is in front of a stack of books, smiling, with the base of the pedestal bearing her birth name, home state, birth, and death dates, and one of her notable quotes that read, “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it may be a diamond in the rough.”
“She gave her life to make things different and better. When I look at her statue, it’s like the realization of her faith. Bethune-Cookman has that same faith. To be able to build a college on a garbage dump is an outstanding accomplishment,” Evelyn Bethune, one of three living grandchildren, said.
The statue is set to be unveiled in the U.S. Capitol on July 13 at 11 a.m. ET. Check out the unveiling ceremony below.
Thank you for your contributions, Dr. Bethune! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of Nigel Cook/News-Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co