U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall to get first state-commissioned statue of a black American
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The Statuary Hall Collection is in the U.S. Capitol. It has two statues from each of the 50 states. They show people in the states’ histories. Most of the collection shows white men. They are in National Statuary Hall. They are also found throughout the Capitol. A state-commissioned statue representing a black American will join their ranks. This is a first.
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill. It authorizes the replacement one of his state’s statues. The statue will depict civil rights activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune. That's according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. The departing statute is of the Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith. The News-Journal reports that the replacement was prompted by the nation-wide reevaluation of Confederate memorials.
Bethune was born Mary Jane McLeod. She was born in 1875. She was the 15th of 17 children. Her parents were Samuel and Patsy McIntosh McLeod. They had been formerly enslaved on the McIntosh and McLeod plantations. Those were in Maysville, South Carolina. That’s according to BlackPast.org. Bethune was the only one of her siblings to attend school. It was a five mile walk. She made it every day. That's according to PBS.org. She finished her schooling at the Scotia Seminary for Girls. It is in Concord, North Carolina. She also attended the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions. It is now the Moody Bible Institute. It is in Chicago. She completed her education on scholarships.
Originally, Bethune wanted to be a missionary in Africa. But she changed her mind. She realized that “Africans in America needed Christ and school just as much as Negros in Africa.” That's what she wrote later. That’s according to BlackPast.org. “My life work lay not in Africa but in my own country.”
The educator went on to found a school for girls. It was in Daytona, Florida. It eventually merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in Jacksonville. Together, they became Bethune-Cookman College. That was in 1923. She served as the college’s first president until 1942. During that time, in 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women. She also served as an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. She was a friend to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. That’s according to the National Women’s History Museum’s website.
Bethune’s views on education were not without controversy. “My people needed literacy,” she said. That’s according to PBS.org. “But they needed even more to learn the simples of farming, of making decent homes, of health and plain cleanliness.”
Her focus was on vocational education rather than high learning. This earned her censure from Ida B. Wells and others.
But Bethune still garnered respect and acclaim for her efforts. She worked to end lynching and discrimination. She was elected vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP). That was in 1940.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the bill to put the statue of Bethune in the U.S. Capitol received nearly unanimous support by the Florida House and Senate.