A statue of Mary McLeod Bethune is set to replace a statue of a Confederate general in the U.S. Capitol, making her the first Black person to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
Bethune’s statue will replace one of Edmund Kirby Smith who had been representing Florida since 1922. On Sept. 4th, his statue was removed.
Four other African Americans, Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Sojourner Truth, have statues or busts throughout the Capitol but Bethune’s statue will be the only one representing a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who attended the statue unveiling event in Italy in July and another event held in Daytona Beach back in October, spoke about how Bethune has been an inspiration for generations.
“Everything that she stood for is important to the state of Florida—equality, civil rights, education, veterans,” Castor said. “An obscure Confederate general, who barely lived in the state and was one of the last to surrender to the Union, is not a good representative of our diverse, beautiful, dynamic state.”
Castor and other members of Florida’s state congress initially first called for the removal of Smith’s statue after the murder of nine church members at Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.
"Florida should seize the opportunity to place a statue in the U.S. Capitol of a great Floridian who represents the essence of the Sunshine State like Mary McLeod Bethune or [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas,” she said in a statement at the time.
Artist Nilda Comas, a native of Fort Lauderdale, was commissioned to design the statue and completed it in November 2016. The marble used on the statue was excavated from Michelangelo’s cave in Italy.
“The highest honor you can give a person through history is to do their sculpture in marble,” Comas said. “Also, marble sculptures look better under the light they have (at the Capitol).”
Comas created an identical bronze statue that will be installed in Daytona Beach’s Riverfront Park after the marble one arrives in Washington but a location has not been given.
“We are requesting that she have a real place of honor in the old House Chamber so that everyone can see this beautiful statue and representative of the state of Florida. … We want her in the most prominent position possible,” Castor said.
Yvette Lewis, president of the NAACP’s Hillsborough County Branch, said she hoped that the contributions of Black people, which are often overlooked in American history, would garner more recognition in the future.
“The history books that we grew up with did not talk about Mary McLeod Bethune to give me hope that I can too be an educator, that I can too start my own school, to give me hope that I can achieve the things that I want,” Lewis said. “That’s a part of our history that needs to be in the books, to let people know, there is success beyond. Keep moving, keep going.”