After an arduous five-year process, and a fundraising effort that generated almost one million dollars, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue becomes the first Black American in the National Statuary Hall Collection honored with a state-commissioned statue. Her statue represents Florida and replaces the removed statue of a Confederate general.
On Wednesday, the statue of the civil rights pioneer and educator officially replaced a nearly 100-year-old bronze statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith.
“Today, we are rewriting the history we want to share with our future generation,” said Florida representative Frederica Wilson, one of the speakers at the unveiling ceremony. “We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with the symbol of hope and inspiration… in her rightful place among our nation’s giants of history.”
The 11-foot-tall statue was sculpted by Nilda Comas, a native of Puerto Rico who is based in Fort Lauderdale. She makes history as the first Latina to have a sculpture in the U.S. Capitol. The statue weighs more than 6,000 pounds and was taken out of the same quarry in Italy once used by Michelangelo.
Born into a family of South Carolina enslaved people, Dr. Bethune became a lifelong national leader and powerful educator, founding what eventually became Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black college in Daytona Beach.
“When Blacks were denied education, she built a school. Denied medical care, she built a hospital,” said Florida representative Kathy Castor. “When the world was grappling with authoritarianism, she helped establish the foundational commitment to human rights through the United Nations.”
In her last will and testament, Dr. Bethune left a message of hope and faith to future generations. “She guides us with her last will and testament,” said Nancy Lohman, President of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statutory Funding Corporation. She then read from Dr. Bethune’s will. “I Leave you love, courage, peace. And lastly and finally… a desire and a need and a responsibility to teach our young people.”