The statue of Mary McLeod Bethune is the first black figure in the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall State Collection
Education trailblazer and civil and women’s rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune is now honored among the statues in the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, making history as the first black image in the esteemed collection.
The 13-foot block of marble by Bethune, a daughter of formerly enslaved people, replaced a nearly 100-year-old bronze sculpture of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith in Florida’s collection on Wednesday, July 13. The Bethune statue wears a cap and gown and carries a black rose representing the students she served with her schools.
Each state has two statues in the collection that grew out of the hall in 1933. Bethune’s statue will stand among past presidents, Native American chiefs and political leaders.
For Florida, Bethune’s character joins John Gorrie, a physician, scientist, and inventor of mechanical refrigeration. Florida donated the Gorrie statue to Halle in 1914.
“This is historic,” said Nilda Comas, the artist who created the sculpture. “This is a one-time event.”
There are figures of four other blacks in other parts of the Capitol: Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Rosa Parks. Bethune is a co-founder of one of four historically black colleges and universities in Florida.
She founded the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training Institute for Negro Girls in 1904 with $1.50 and taught only five girls and their son. The school population grew to about 250 students before merging with the Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida in 1923.
Bethune-Cookman University interim president Lawrence M. Drake II said the statute was a “defining moment” for the school, which Bethune co-founded. It took five years and $1 million in donations to make the statue a reality.
“It’s a special moment for this university, a special moment for America,” said Drake. “We have the opportunity to celebrate a hugely influential woman, someone who I think is still a bit unclear to some people. There are people they don’t really know. They may know her name or be aware of her, but this offers them an opportunity to see her tremendous impact, not just on black America but on the world.”
Bethune also founded the Mary McLeod Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the only school on the East Coast that served black women at the time. She was also one of the founders of the United Negro College Fund, a scholarship organization for minority students.
Bethune mobilized women voters after they won the right to vote. Immediately after the formation of the new HBCU, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1923 and was founding president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.
In a league of her own, Bethune has also served as an adviser to American presidents. President Franklin Roosevelt appointed her director of Negro affairs for the National Youth Administration, and she was reportedly a leader of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unofficial “Black Cabinet.” Bethune has been credited with helping African Americans transition from the Republican to the Democratic party.
“DR. Bethune embodies the values we hold dear: hard work, a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to bring peace to people,” said Democratic US Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida during the ceremony at the US Capitol on Wednesday.
“She dedicated her life to equality and service. Service, yes for Presidents, but for students, women, their race, veterans and ordinary Americans. We raise her today at a time of competing ideologies to heal and unite by example, because she also lived in a time of division but determined to stand against dissenting voices.”
Before creating the statue from the same marble that Michelangelo used for the world-famous masterpiece of David more than 500 years ago, Comas visited the log cabin in Mayesville, South Carolina, where Bethune was born in 1875. She met Bethune’s family members, researched her at the Library of Congress, listened to her audio recordings and viewed nearly 300 pictures, reports show.
“I didn’t know her,” Comas said. “I didn’t know what she had been doing, so it was a beautiful journey learning about her, getting to know her and generating ideas. I wanted a portrait that pleases her, that encompasses her achievements.”
Comas also created a bronze statue of Bethune at Riverfront Esplanade Park in Daytona Beach. Locally, Bethune was not only an influential educator, but also brought racial understanding to Daytona Beach. Reports show that she was able to befriend white people to help with her school and other projects to support the black community.
“If you let her get her toe in the door, it wouldn’t be long before her foot and her whole body was in it,” said 87-year-old Harold Lucas, whose father was an accountant and teacher at Daytona Literary and Industrial training institute for Negro girls. “She was a very persistent person and a very persuasive person. She showed her sincerity and fought for what she believed in.”
https://atlantablackstar.com/2022/07/16/pivotal-moment-statue-of-mary-mcleod-bethune-is-the-first-black-figure-in-u-s-capitols-national-statuary-hall-state-collection/ The statue of Mary McLeod Bethune is the first black figure in the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall State Collection