Story at a glance
- Mary McLeod Bethune was a trailblazing educator that founded Bethune-Cookman University based in Florida.
- She also served as an adviser to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
- A statue of Bethune will be placed in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in February 2022.
Mary McLeod Bethune is a daughter of former slaves, a prominent Black educator who founded Bethune-Cookman University and an advisor to former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Now she’s about to have her role in American history further cemented, when her statue is added to the National Statuary Hall Collection.
Bethune will be the first Black person to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. She will be replacing a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in February 2022, according to NBC News.
Bethune’s statue will stand 11-feet tall and weigh 6,000 pounds, with her wearing a cap and gown to signify her dedication to education. It will also have a stack of her own books next to her.
Bethune was born in 1875, and after the Civil War she graduated from Scotia Seminary, a boarding school in North Carolina. She went on to attend Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago and eventually became an educator herself.
After moving to Florida, Bethune opened up a boarding school called the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. It would eventually become a college and merge with the all-male Cookman Institute to officially become Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.
“Dr. Bethune dedicated herself to a life of service, to educating African-Americans and to advancing civil rights. Her spirit guides us today – and Dr. Bethune’s powerful presence looms large on campus and beyond,” says Bethune-Cookman University’s website today.
Beyond education, Bethune also played a major role in advancing the right to vote, serving as the highest ranking African American woman in government after FDR named her his director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. She also was a leader of FDR’s unofficial “black cabinet.”
The Florida Department of State’s Division of Arts and Culture received more than 3,000 names to replace the statue of Smith, which Florida governor Rick Scott approved to remove in 2016. Eventually names were narrowed down to 130 potential candidates, and Bethune was chosen after receiving 1,233 votes in favor of her to represent the state, according to Evolve Magazine.
Nilda Comas is the artist selected to create the statue of Bethune, becoming the first Hispanic master sculptor to create a statue for the National Statuary Hall State Collection.
The National Statuary Hall invites each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens for permanent display, and it’s one of the most popular rooms in the U.S. Capitol Building.
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