Black educator Mary McLeod Bethune became the first Black American to have a state-sanctioned statue erected in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall on July 13.
Bethune’s placement holds significance for many as it replaces the statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith, one of the last to surrender at the end of the Civil War in 1865.
Born a daughter to formerly enslaved people in South Carolina, Bethune rose to prominence as a Black educator, advisor to five U.S. presidents and leader in both civil and women’s rights.
In 1904, the educator opened a boarding school in Daytona Beach, Florida that would later become Bethune-Cookman University.
Due to the influential roots she left in the state, Florida Sen. Rick Scott signed a bill in 2018 that commissioned Bethune’s Statuary Hall tribute.
Nilda Comas, the artist behind the sculpture, was selected out of 1,600 applicants to do Bethune’s 11-foot tall marble likeness.
“Today we are rewriting the history we want to share with our future generations. We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with a symbol of hope and inspiration,” Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL.) said at Wednesday’s unveiling.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) read from Bethune’s last will and testament during the event, according to USA Today.
“I leave you love and I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you with a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave you faith, I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people.”
Statues Of Black Leaders In the Capitol
Only four other Black men and women have been honored with statues in the Capitol, but in other parts of the building besides Statuary Hall.
The famous figures include Martin Luther King Jr., Fredrick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks.
Parks became the first Black woman depicted in a full-length statue in Statuary Hall in 2013. However, the civil rights leader’s memorial wasn’t a part of the National Statuary Hall Collection, the Associated Press reports.
Read more on the craftsmanship and details of Bethune’s statue in MADAMENOIRE‘s previous coverage.
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