Mary McLeod Bethune statue to be installed in U.S. Capitol’s statuary hall 

Bethune's statue, by noted sculptor Nilda Comas, replaces one of a confederate general on display since 1922.

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One of Black America’s most prominent female figures in the movement for civil rights will be honored this month with a statue placed in the United States Capitol Building’s statuary hall. 

An 11-foot-tall statue of Mary McLeod Bethune will soon be installed in the National Statuary Hall collection, meant to represent the state of Florida. According to The Washington Post, Bethune will be the first Black American to specifically represent any state among the collection of statues. 

Nilda Comas’ 11-foot tall statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will be installed in the National Statuary Hall collection, where she will represent the state of Florida. (Photo: Castor.house.gov)

Each state is given the opportunity to display two statues of prominent citizens in the hall, and Bethune’s will replace one of confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith — there since 1922. The statue — created by noted sculptor Nilda Comas from the world’s finest marble, according to the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project — will feature at its base Bethune’s quote: “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it may be a diamond in the rough.” 

Bethune was considered one of the few African Americans who had access to the White House, particularly during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She shared a special friendship with former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who would often greet her personally and escort her to speak with the president about the issues affecting African Americans. 

“I discussed with him the problems of my people in many an off-the-record private talk held in the President’s study in the White House,” Bethune wrote in an article titled “My Secret Talks With FDR,” which was published in 1949 in Ebony magazine, as reprinted by The Post. “I often expressed to him my impatience with the slowness of the democratic process.”

In her essay, Bethune wrote of telling the president of the refusal of many Southern states to allocate funds from the National Youth Administration to help Black youth. She noted that she “caught his arm and clung to him,'” saying, “‘The Negro people need all of the strength that you can give, Mr. President, in opening up opportunities for them.'”

She recalled that Roosevelt looked at her and said, “Mrs. Bethune. I shall not fail you.” 

The founder of what ultimately became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona, Florida, Bethune was a prominent activist and educator. Her statue depicts her in a cap and gown to honor her in that role and as one of the first Black women to found a university. 

“Dr. Bethune was a visionary, an entrepreneur, a business executive, a friend and adviser to five US Presidents, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Calvin Coolidge, President Herbert Hoover, and President Harry S. Truman,” Bethune-Cookman University says on its website. “She was close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, who actually had her own guest room in Dr. Bethune’s home.”

Per NBC News, Comas’ Bethune statue was originally set to be placed among the collection last month. It gives her the distinction of being the first Latina artist with a sculpture in the National Statuary Hall.

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