WASHINGTON – The U.S Capitol’s Statuary Hall unveiled a marble statue of Mary McLeod Bethune on Wednesday, replacing a Confederate general as one of Florida’s two statues in the Capitol.
The statue is also the first of an African American in the Statuary Hall collection, the statues officially commissioned by each state. Florida is the only state to be represented by an African American woman at the Capitol.
Rich Black, an alumnus of Bethune Cookman University, traveled to D.C. from Central Florida to be at the historic unveiling. He said seeing the unveiling up close meant so much.
“This is historic, this is an opportunity that Americans can really celebrate diversity and inclusion. This is a great day,” Black said.
Black, the publisher of Onyx Magazine, was also the visionary who helped fund this statue on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University in 2004.
“Mary McLeod Bethune was just a mover and a shaker of a day. I don’t think there’s a higher profile person in American history today, African American, other than Mary McLeod Bethune,” Black said.
The marble statue is one of two sculptures that will depict the Black educator, civil rights activist and suffragette. The second statue is bronze and will be at the Riverfront Esplanade Park in Daytona Beach.
McLeod Bethune’s statue was made of marble from the same Tuscan quarry that Michelangelo used, and it stands at 11 feet tall.
She wears a cap and gown to symbolize her commitment to education, and she holds a black rose to symbolize her belief that “loving thy neighbor” means interracial, interreligious and international brotherhood, according to the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund.
Several lawmakers were at the unveiling, including Sen. Marco Rubio, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Rep. Val Demings. Demings holds an honorary doctorate degree from Bethune-Cookman University.
“It is only befitting that Mary Mcleod Bethune takes her rightful place in the people’s house and continues to let her light shine,” Demings said.
“Dr. Bethune wasn’t just a great Floridian, she was a great American,” Rubio said.
The university’s interim president, Dr. Lawrence Drake II, said Dr. Bethune deserves this recognition.
“No one could have predicted that this daughter of slaves would create a university, found a powerful political organization, advise presidents and inspire generations,” Drake said. “Our hearts are rejoicing today, seeing our founder and namesake take her rightful place among the most distinguished Americans here in the center of our democracy.”
Bethune’s replaces one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which was removed last year. The other statue is of John Gorrie, a Florida doctor who is considered the father of air conditioning and refrigeration.
The university also hosted a watch party for the unveiling of its foundress’ statue at the university’s Performing Arts Center.
The bronze statue that will be in Daytona Beach will be unveiled on Aug. 18.
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