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Statue of Mary McLeod Bethune Unveiled in Statuary Hall, U.S. Capitol

By David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Mary McLeod Bethune is now in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol. The Bethune statue was unveiled in a ceremony on Wednesday, June 13, 2022. Representing Florida, the statue joins one of John Gorrie, an American physician and scientist born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis. The Bethune statue replaces one of a Confederate army officer removed in 2021.

Lincoln Group of DC members are familiar with Mary McLeod Bethune from another statue of her that graces the opposite end of Lincoln Park from the Emancipation Memorial (aka, Freedman's Memorial). The Emancipation Memorial was targeted by protesters in 2020 and the Lincoln Group participated in a pair of teach-ins to open dialogue about the statue.

The U.S. Capitol Historical Society sponsored an event Wednesday to announce the unveiling. Speakers and attendees at that event and at the unveiling in Statuary Hall included Democratic Representative Kathy Castor of Florida, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and others. Castor noted, "I am proud to be a Floridian this morning, because the people of the state of Florida have sent the great educator and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to represent our dynamic and diverse state -- the first to be represented by a Black American in National Statuary Hall."

Born in 1875, the daughter of former enslaved parents, Bethune was an educator, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist, and civil rights activist. She founded the National Council of Negro Women, was president of the National Association for Colored Women and the National Youth Administration's Negro Division and was appointed as a national advisor to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Bethune started a private school for African Americans in Daytona Beach, which later became Bethune-Cookman University. And she did much more. the Library of Congress has a nice background piece here.

The statue itself stands 11-feet high. Carved from the last piece of statuary marble from Michelangelo's quarry in Italy, the 6,000-pound statue was sculpted by Nilda Comas, the first Hispanic sculptor to create a statue for the National Statuary Hall collection. Bethune wears a cap and gown representing her commitment to education. She carries her signature walking cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The white marble is stunningly highlighted by the black rose she holds in her hand, a tribute to her students who she lovingly referred to as her "black roses."

The Lincoln Group has participated in several events in Statuary Hall, including the dedication of the Lincoln Room just steps away from the new Bethune statue.

[Photo from the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project.]


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