Gov. Ron DeSantis has sent a letter to the Architect of the U.S. Capitol formally asking that a statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune replace that of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.
“Florida is proud to commemorate the 144th anniversary of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s birthday by sending our state’s formal request to place her statue in National Statuary Hall, making her the first African American to have a state-commissioned statue,” DeSantis said in a press release.
In 2018, Florida lawmakers approved the swap after a two-year review that included testimonials from members of the public. The Department of Management Services was then tasked with developing a plan based on recommendations from the Florida Historical Commission.
“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was an influential educator, leader and civil rights activist who became one of Florida’s and our nation’s most influential leaders,” DeSantis said. “Dr. McLeod Bethune’s statue will represent the best of who we are as Floridians to visitors from around the world in our nation’s capitol. Her legacy endures and will continue to inspire future generations.”
The civil rights activist was the Florida chapter president of the National Association of Colored Women, president of the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, founded the National Council of Negro Women and was appointed director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
An educator at heart, she was best known for starting a school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, which went on to become Bethune-Cookman University.
“This is an important milestone in the storied legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, whose influence and ability to convene individuals for the common good across racial and political lines made her an asset to the City of Daytona Beach and the nation, at large, as she advised U.S. Presidents Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt,” said Bethune-Cookman University Vice President of Advancement Dr. Clifford Porter. “Having the first state-commissioned statue of an African American placed in National Statuary Hall and the school she founded to continue its mission, Bethune-Cookman University, should inspire in all Floridians a great sense of pride.”
At the moment, the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, the nonprofit tasked with raising money for the statue, has collected $380,000 of the $400,000 goal.
“We wanted to make sure the project was affiliated as a community effort and not just a BCU project,” Bob Lloyd, president of the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “We wanted a much broader outreach across the community… we should treasure (Bethune) as a leader and a beacon for the Daytona Beach community.”
The 9-foot marble statue is already being worked on by sculptor Nilda Comas in Italy. The piece is slated to be finished by 2020, at which point, Boyd said, is expected to take two months to ship from Italy to Washington, D.C.
“We are so appreciative of the support of Gov. DeSantis, Bethune-Cookman University and all Floridians who are bringing this great project to fruition,” Lloyd said.
Bethune’s statue will stand alongside fellow Florida representative John Gorrie, the inventor of air conditioning.
Chris began his writing as a hobby while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Today he and his wife live in the Orlando area with their three children and dog.