Florida’s Mary McLeod Bethune statue to make history at the United States Capitol

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WASHINGTON – Early next year, Florida will send a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general at the United States Capitol, making her the first black person to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist. In 1904, she opened a school for black girls in Daytona Beach, which would later become Bethune-Cookman University. She was also an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The white marble statue of a smiling Bethune holding a black marble rose is on display at the News-Journal Center at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach until December 12, when it will travel to DC

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, attended the statue unveiling event in Italy in July and helped unveil the statue after arriving at Daytona Beach on October 11. She said Bethune was an inspiring figure.

“Everything she stood up for is important to the state of Florida – equality, civil rights, education, veterans,” Castor said. “An obscure Confederate general, who barely lived in the state and was one of the last to come to the Union, is not a good representative of our diverse, beautiful and vibrant state.”

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor, D-Tampa and other dignitaries welcome the unveiling of Mary McCleod Bethune statue in Italy. [ U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s office ]

The statue of Bethune will replace that of Edmund Kirby Smith who has represented Florida since 1922. The statue of Smith was removed on September 4.

According to Castor’s office, she and other members of the Florida congressional delegation called for the replacement of the Smith statue after the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015, when a white supremacist killed nine blacks during a Bible study.

“Florida should take the opportunity to place a statue in the US Capitol of a great Floridian who represents the essence of the Sunshine State like Mary McLeod Bethune or (Marjory) Stoneman Douglas,” she said in a statement. at the time.

There are four other African Americans depicted in statues or busts throughout the Capitol – Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth – but none of them belong to the National Statuary. Hall Collection representing a State.

Artist Nilda Comas, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, was selected in November 2016 to sculpt the statue. The piece of Comas white marble used was excavated from Michelangelo’s cave in Italy. Comas said she created a 1-foot plasteline model in her Fort Lauderdale studio before moving on to larger clay models and eventually marble in Italy.

“The greatest honor that you can give to a person throughout history is to make their sculpture in marble,” said Comas. “Plus, the marble sculptures are more beautiful in the light they have (on the Capitol).”

The artist said Bethune wears a cap and dress due to her role in education. She has a cane in one hand, because Bethune received such a gift from Roosevelt, and in her other hand she has a black rose. Bethune was drawn to black roses when she visited Europe in 1920, Comas said, and she called her students black roses.

Comas created an identical bronze statue that will be installed in Riverfront Park in Daytona Beach after the marble statue arrives in Washington.

No decision has yet been made on where the statue will be placed, Castor said.

“We ask that she have a real place of honor in the old chamber of the House so that everyone can see this beautiful statue and representative of the state of Florida.… We want her in the most important position possible, ”Castor said.

Fred Hearns, curator of black history at the Tampa Bay History Center, said Bethune was a great figure who performed traditionally male roles in his day, but there are others whose contributions do not are not recognized.

“I hope (the statue of Bethune) makes people want to know more about the African Americans who have made a difference in this country,” Hearns said.

Yvette Lewis, president of the Hillsborough County branch of the NAACP, said she hoped the United States would do more to recognize black contributions, as black history has been largely ignored over the years.

“The history books we grew up with didn’t talk about Mary McLeod Bethune to give me hope that I can also be an educator, that I can also start my own school, to give me hope that I can achieve the things I want. “Lewis said.” It’s a part of our story that needs to be on the books, to let people know that there is success beyond. Keep moving, keep going.

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