Mary McLeod Bethune believed in the power of education to transform the lives of young black girls. The daughter of former slaves, she saw how it had changed her life and she wanted to do the same for other black women. In 1904, she founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls, which enrolled 250 students in two years. That school eventually became the Bethune-Cookman University, one of Florida’s historically black colleges.
In 1935, Bethune established the National Council of Negro Women and was appointed as the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Now, she will honored for her work with a statue at the National Statuary Hall.
The National Statuary Hall, located in the United States Capitol, is a place dedicated to sculptures of prominent Americans. It was built as a meeting place for the House of Representatives. The first statue was placed at the Statuary Hall in 1870. By 1971, each state had contributed at least one statue.
The statue Mary McLeod Bethune will be replacing is that of Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general who surrendered the last military force of the Confederacy. The Florida legislation voted to remove Smith’s statue back in 2016 after the 2015 Charleston shooting by a White Supremacist that left 9 black worshipers dead at a church in South Carolina. At the time, the bill did not name a replacement.
The bill was sponsored by Senator Perry Thurston in the Florida Senate and Representative Patrick Henry in the Florida House. Rep Henry, who is an alumnus of the Bethune-Cookman University, told the Dayton Times, “Dr. Bethune was a true stateswoman. Not only was she an acclaimed educator and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, she was a courageous social activist and she served our nation honorably as the first African-American woman to head a federal agency, serving as the director of the Division of Negro Affairs during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.”
Mary McLeod Bethune will be the first African-American represented by a state in the National Statuary Hall.