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Florida to Replace Confederate Statue In U.S. Capitol with Civil Rights Icon Mary McCleod Bethune

Portrait of American educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune (1875 – 1955) with the United States Capital Building in the background, circa 1950. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The Florida Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to replace the state’s statue honoring a Confederate general at the U.S. Capitol with a sculpture celebrating civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.

If given the go-ahead by the House and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, Florida would join the growing list of states and cities across the U.S. that have elected to remove such Confederate monuments, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Senators voted 37–0 on the proposed bill to swap a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith for one honoring Bethune at the National Statuary Hall.

“Dr. Bethune’s life and values represent the best of Florida,” said Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who sponsored the bill. ” … Voting for this legislation underscores that Floridians recognize our rich history and celebrate our diversity.”

Bethune’s likeness would be the hall’s first statue honoring an African-American, according to the newspaper. Each state has two effigies situated in the hall to represent it – Florida’s second statue being a likeness of John Gorrie, a pioneering inventor of air conditioning.

Bethune, who passed away in 1995, was an educator who worked to register African-Americans to vote during the era of Jim Crown and later founded Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. She’d later serve as an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.

Efforts to replace Smith’s statue were spurred by Charleston church shooting in which nine Black parishioners were killed when a self–professed white nationalist opened fire during bible study. The tragic incident sent shock waves across the country, forcing lawmakers to reevaluate the significance of Confederate memorials.

Florida, Orlando, Pasco County have since voted to remove such monuments from public spaces, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, applauded the landmark decision but noted that the bill doesn’t include any funds to pay for the statue. He’s now encouraging fellow lawmakers to contribute money to the budget in order to move the switch along.

“I want to make sure that this is not delayed and we get that statute to Washington, D.C., and appropriately bring back Kirby’s statute,” Bracy said.

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