DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Though miles away from Washington, D.C., Daytona Beach residents and Bethune Cookman University students made a point to celebrate the unveiling of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
Hundreds of people packed into the university’s performing arts center to watch the unveiling as it happened live in the Capitol. A project five years in the making finally came to fruition.
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“I was just overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe that everything that she’d done for us and the people with the presidents and hearing all of the history and stuff. It just brought it back to life, and it just made me very proud to be here,” Professor Sonya Poteat said.
The 3-ton, 11-foot-tall statue now stands to represent Florida in the hall.
“This is what Mary McLeod would have wanted. She worked all of her life to improve the quality of life for all of the residents and citizens of this community,” Marjory Johnson said.
It’s made from what is likely the last marble from the same quarry Michelangelo used to create his work. It took five years to raise more than one million dollars for it, have it sculpted in Italy and shipped to the U.S. Before heading to D.C., the statue made a pit stop in Daytona Beach for residents to see in February.
Now, Bethune is officially the first African American to represent a state in the hall, replacing the statue of a confederate general.
“Everything that you’ve ever thought about from the beginning of time, being an African American, and everything that we’ve gone through and transcended to know that we are definitely a great people, and this is such a great honor to being in the Capitol building,” Poteat said.
The daughter of slaves, Bethune founded the university in Daytona Beach more than 100 years ago, going against the odds to give a space for Black students to learn.
“It’s crazy how she started and made this institution with five little girls and a dollar fifty cents, and not a lot of people know that story,” student Samantha Scott said.
Now, about 2,700 students attend Bethune Cookman University each year, but the hope with the statue is more people will hear Bethune’s story.
“It’s important for young children to know that people that come from absolutely nothing can make it,” student Dikayla Mercer said. “It’s empowering. It’s unreal. I feel powerful right now, like I’m on top of the world just because that statue is where it is.”
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