Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (Credit: Rep. Val Demings)

Legislation was introduced Friday to welcome a statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) are the forces behind this measure that would see the first statue of a Black American to represent a U.S. state in Statuary Hall. The resolution would authorize the use of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for a welcome ceremony for the statue, where it would be displayed for six months. It would also replace the current display of General Edmund Kirby Smith who was a Confederate general.

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Bethune, the child of a former slave, was an advisor to five U.S. presidents including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, and Calvin Coolidge. She was particularly close to Roosevelt who appointed her as director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, where she worked to employ over 300,000 young people.

President Harry S. Truman also appointed her to the United Nations in 1945 to serve as an official delegate to a presidential inauguration in Liberia. She was also a staunch supporter of education, civil, and voting rights. Her accomplishments and lasting legacy are also prominent in the school she founded, Bethune-Cookman College.

The choice to submit her name and likeness for consideration was an easy one for the sponsors.

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“Mary McLeod Bethune was the most powerful woman I can remember as a child. She has been an inspiration to me throughout my whole life,” Rep. Demings said.

“I am proud that she will be Florida’s new face in the U.S. Capitol, and know that her life will continue to inspire all Americans for years to come.”

Rep. Waltz praised Bethune for her steadfastness in education because she knew it led to a better quality in life.

“Her example and legacy should make all Floridians proud. Florida’s Sixth District is honored to have one of its most notable figures celebrated in the U.S. Capitol – and I’m looking forward to thousands of visitors in Washington learning more about Dr. Bethune and her servant leadership to America.”

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If passed, there would be a welcome ceremony for the statue at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where it would be displayed for six months. After this display period, the statue would join the National Statuary Hall Collection.

The statue would be unveiled in 2021.