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Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Becomes First Black Historical Figure to Be Featured at the U.S. Capitol

Education pioneer Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will make history next year when a statue of her is unveiled at the U.S. Capitol in 2022. It will be the first time a Black person has had a state-commissioned statue in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. She will be replacing a Confederate general, Edmund Kirby.

The 11-foot larger-than-life marble figure features Bethune wearing a cap and gown and a pearl necklace, holding a black rose in one hand and a walking stick in the other, while standing in front of a stack of books, donning a smile on her face.

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 12: View of the Mary McLeod Bethune statue in Lincoln Park in Washington, DC on August 11, 2013. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The 6,000-pound statue initially was shown in Bethune’s home state of Florida, where it will remain on display in Daytona Beach State College’s News-Journal Center for several months before relocating to the nation’s capital in early 2022, Florida Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor said in a press release last month. 

Bethune was the daughter of formerly enslaved parents and made many achievements throughout her life, including funding the National Council of Negro Women. She also advised multiple U.S. presidents and created a boarding school for Black children that would later become known as the historically Black institute, Bethune-Cookman University, located in Daytona Beach. 

The Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Project was highly instrumental in getting this project off the ground through years of fundraising. Bob Lloyd, the fund’s board treasurer, told CNN that the nonprofit had raised about $800,000 in private donations. That money went toward the marble statue and a bronze replica that’s been slated for a new riverfront park in Daytona Beach.

“I am grateful to the many friends who I’ve worked alongside for years in order to reach this momentous moment. Dr. Bethune embodies the very best of the Sunshine State. Floridians and all Americans can take great pride in being represented by the great educator and civil rights icon,” Castor said.

“I am glad that she is being rightfully recognized here in Florida before she travels to her place of honor and recognition by all of America in the U.S. Capitol.”

The tribute created by artist Nilda Comas was reportedly sculpted from the largest and last piece of statuary marble from Michelangelo’s quarry in Italy. Comas was selected from 1,600 applicants and is the first Hispanic master sculptor to create a statue for the National Statuary Hall State Collection.

Comas told WESH that she “fell in love with Dr. Bethune and everything that she did,” after doing intensive research on the civil rights activist.

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