Mary McLeod Bethune sculpture to be unveiled in Capitol Wednesday; first Black person featured in Statuary Hall 

Other statues of Blacks in different parts of the Capitol honor Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks.

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A 13-foot tall statue of educator and philanthropist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled this week inside the U.S. Capitol Building after an arduous five-year process to get there. 

The statue will be dedicated Wednesday at 11 a.m. in National Statuary Hall, making it the first of a Black person in the state collections. Other statues of prominent African Americans in other parts of the building honor Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks.

Pioneering African American educator and activist Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is shown, circa 1950, with the United States Capitol Building in the background. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“This is one of the most important weeks in our state’s history and in the history of our country,” Nancy Lohman, president of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, told The Florida Times-Union. “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue unveiling and dedication is historic as the first African American — male or female — to be honored in the National Statuary Hall State Collection.”

“I am so proud,” she noted, “that the great State of Florida is becoming greater on July 13, 2022.”

The statue’s dedication will be broadcast by Florida news station WESH, and via a livestream feed at speaker.gov/live. 

It will be one of two statues representing the state of Florida and replaces a bronze likeness of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith.

Bethune, the daughter of formerly enslaved people, rose to become a leader in women’s rights. She was also a friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and served as an advisor to her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, according to her biography. In addition, she was the founder of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

“It’s a special moment for this university, a special moment for America,” said interim BCU President Lawrence M. Drake II, who also will be at the Capitol for the Wednesday ceremony.

“We have an opportunity to celebrate an enormously influential woman, someone that I think is still somewhat obscure to some people,” Drake maintained. “There are people who don’t really know her. They may know her name or be aware of her, but this will offer the opportunity for them to look at her enormous impact, not just on Black America, but on the world.”

Among those scheduled to attend the dedication are Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, Democratic Florida congresswomen Rep. Kathy Castor, Rep. Frederica Wilson, Rep. Val Demings, who’s running for the U.S. Senate, and Republican Florida Rep. Michael Waltz.

Derrick Henry, mayor of Daytona Beach, who will also be there Wednesday, told The Times-Union Dr. Bethune’s values are central to that community.

“Quite simply, I think this is the singular achievement in the history of our community,” Henry said. “It is the crowning glory for a woman that is worthy of sainthood, the crowning moment in her long list of great achievements.”

“If I were to describe our community as a ship, I also would describe Dr. Bethune as our rudder,” he continued. “When we get lost, when we lose our way, we go back to the values she laid out. We can see her as our guiding light in a community that has a great history of decency.”

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