Daytona Beach, Fla. – An 11-foot statue of Mary McLeod Bethune now stands complete in Italy. It’s made from what’s likely the last marble from the same quarry Michaelangelo used to create his work.
The organization that raised funds for the statue and Bethune-Cookman University students visited Italy for a blessing of the statue before it leaves.
It will soon head to the United States. First, stopping in Daytona Beach for residents to see it, and then will head to its permanent home in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol and represent the state of Florida.
It will replace the statue of a confederate general.
“The project started 10 years ago not just because he’s a confederate soldier but because he did not do anything for Florida,” sculptor Nilda Comas said.
Comas beat out thousands in a competition to get the project.
“It’s not just beautiful but it also has a deeper meaning,” she said.
Bethune founded the university over 100 years ago. She went against all odds to give a space for Black students to learn.
Dr. Dorothy Lewis watched Bethune take on the fight first-hand and remembers the first time meeting her.
“I got an assignment to interview Eleanor Roosevelt when I was at the Daytona Beach News-Journal and it just so happened that she was a great friend of Mary McLeod Bethune’s and was staying at Mary McLeod Bethune’s home,” she said.
Lewis was a decorated reporter at the Daytona Beach News-Journal from 1952 to 1974.
Bethune passed away in 1955 but Lewis got to know her well in her last three years of life.
“I had lunch with her once on her porch and a lot of people told me ‘oh, don’t go to her house, don’t go to her house, people will never talk to you again if you go to her house.’ That’s how bad racism was back then,” she said.
Lewis remembers watching Bethune take on city council, teach her students how to get a job and eventually give her one at Bethune-Cookman University, which is a private school and affiliated with the United Methodist Church.
“I happen to be Jewish, I’m not a Christian. I wondered if they would accept me when I went to teach, and she had no racism in her head at all. She was glad to have me there,” she said.
Lewis calls it a testament to who will now represent Florida in the U.S. Capitol.
“She did all of this very calmly. That’s the whole thing. I never saw her get angry or shout,” she said.
Leaders with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project said they hope the statue will be in Daytona Beach in September. It will be held at the News-Journal Center for a short period of time for people to see before it’s brought up to D.C.