A new "piece" of history is now part of National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.
Civil Rights icon, educator, author, philanthropist, humanitarian and women's rights activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will be honored Wednesday morning when a statue of her likeness will be unveiled at Statuary Hall. Her statue will represent her home state of Florida. The unveiling takes place at 11:00 am. It will also make Dr. Bethune the first Black American in the National Statuary Hall collection.
After an arduous five-year process that involved a series of state and federal approvals, a fundraising effort that generated nearly $1 million, logistical challenges and unimagined complications that included a global pandemic, the towering marble statue honoring Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled this morning (Wednesday, July 13, 2022) in Washington, D.C. The sculpture that was artfully chiseled out of a 13-foot-long block of precious marble will be dedicated in the U.S. Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall.
Bethune was a civil rights activist, a presidential adviser and the founder of the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, which became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will host an unveiling ceremony Wednesday morning, with many other lawmakers expected to attend.
Since 1864, each state has been able to send two statues of distinguished citizens to represent it in the U.S. Capitol, constituting the National Statuary Hall collection. Since 2000, states have been able to remove and replace existing statues with new ones. A handful of states have done so, but none of those new additions have depicted Black Americans.
The artist who created the work, master sculptor Nilda Comas, painstakingly carved the likeness of Bethune from an 11.5-ton block of precious 'statuario' marble excavated from Michelangelo’s cave in the Apuan Italian Alps in Tuscany. The black marble used for the rose on the statue came from Spain.
The statue of Dr. Bethune marks the first time in U.S. history that an African American will represent a state in the Hall at the U.S. Capitol. The statue of Bethune replaces one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The change was directed by a state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018. The Smith statue was removed in 2021.
Dr. Bethune will join women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth, whose memorial bust was unveiled in 2009 in the Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center, as the first African American women to be honored with busts in the United States Capitol.
Born to former slaves a decade after the Civil War, Dr. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in 1935. She was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his National Advisor, with whom she worked to create the Federal Council on Colored Affairs aka the Black Cabinet. Dr. Bethune also founded a private school for Black girls in Daytona Beach, Florida, which today is the prominent HBCU, Bethune-Cookman University.
Dr. Bethune is known as "The First Lady of the Struggle" because of her commitment to Civil Rights.
This is one of the most important weeks in our state’s history and in the history of our country,” said Nancy Lohman, president of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, among a contingent of local civic leaders and elected officials who will be attending the ceremony.
“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue unveiling and dedication is historic as the first African American — male or female — to be honored in the National Statuary Hall State Collection,” Lohman said. “I am so proud that the great State of Florida is becoming greater on July 13, 2022.”
Rodney. L. Hurst, Sr.