Washington DC – Wednesday, July 13, 2022: A statue of Florida educator and civil rights activist Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Dr. Bethune is the first African American to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall inside the United States Capitol building. Statuary Hall includes two statues donated by each state. The statue of Dr. Bethune replaces a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith.
In 2018, the Florida Legislature voted to create and install the statue, and in 2019, former Governor Scott signed it, Governor DeSantis formally asked Congress to ask the Dr. Bethune to represent Florida at Statuary Hall. Then in 2020, Florida Reps. Michael Waltz (R: FL-6) and Val Demings (D: FL-10) introduced legislation to make it happen.
Family members of the late Dr. Bethune joined members of the Florida Congressional delegation for the unveiling ceremony.
Representative Val Demings of Orlando spoke of Dr. Bethune’s determination at the turn of the last century to provide an education to black people who were deprived of it.
“As I listened to my parents tell the story, it seemed impossible. But Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune made possible what seemed impossible,” Rep. Demings said. “Dr. Bethune became one of the most powerful educators and most influential women in Florida history and in the history of our nation.”
Representative Kathy Castor from Miami spoke about the symbolism of the statue.
“His spirit is captured in this beautiful sculpture by Neil Decomis,” the Castor rep said. “Note an educator’s cap and robe, the smile and sunny outlook, the golden lettering that shines like the Florida sun, the cane given to her by President Roosevelt, and of course the distinctive black rose that represents the students she educated, encouraged and loved.”
And Rep. Michael Waltz read Dr. Bethune’s last will.
“She says I leave you love. I leave you hope, I leave you the thirst for education. I leave you faith. Without faith nothing is possible, and with it nothing is impossible .”
The life of Dr. Bethune
Born in South Carolina in 1875, Dr. Bethune opened a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, which later became Bethune-Cookman University.
Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. She was also appointed National Counselor to President Roosevelt, with whom she worked to create the Federal Council for Colored Affairs, also known as of Dark Cabinet. Dr. Bethune was the only African-American woman to officially be part of the American delegation that created the United Nations charter.
During her life of activism, Dr. Bethune was named “First Lady of Negro America” by Ebony magazine in July 1949, and was known by the Black Press as “Female Booker T. Washington” . She died in 1955.